Admiral Applauds Guantanamo Closure Order

Retired Rear Adm. John Hutson, a former judge advocate general, has been a vocal critic of prisoner abuse. He discusses President Obama's decision to suspend military commissions at Guantanamo Bay and ultimately to close the facility.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

On Thursday, President Obama issued an executive order to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within one year. But the debate over the controversial camp and its suspension of habeas corpus, one of the principal rights enshrined in the American Constitution, is likely to last a lot longer than that.

One of the people President Obama met with on Thursday is John Hutson. He's a former Navy judge advocate general, or JAG, and dean of the Franklin Pierce Law Center in New Hampshire. He's also a retired rear admiral. Admiral Hutson, welcome to the show.

Rear Admiral JOHN HUTSON (Former Judge Advocate General, U.S. Navy; Dean, Franklin Pierce Law Center, New Hampshire): Hi. Thank you for having me.

LYDEN: You've been in Washington this week, and I'd like to know your immediate reaction to President Obama's decision.

Rear Admiral HUTSON: Well, of course, I was elated. This is something that I have been working on with other retired admirals and generals in an organization called Human Rights First for, I don't know, four or five years.

LYDEN: You're a longtime military man. Why were you opposed to the military tribunals proposed by the Bush administration to begin with?

Rear Admiral HUTSON: Well, initially, I wasn't. Initially, I was an ardent supporter of military commissions. But then when I realized what they really were going to look like in fact - you know, the concept I supported - it's historical, it's legal, it could be done right. In fact, it wasn't done right. And what happened was that essentially the administration set them up to reverse engineer a conviction.

LYDEN: So I guess the big question that remains, though, is what does become of these roughly 245 people still in Guantanamo. Do you think they should be given civil trials here?

Rear Admiral HUTSON: That's certainly a possibility and that would work. We've got the best system of justice in the world. U.S. district courts and courts martial have tried terrorists for decades now quite effectively, so that would work. What the president has done is set up a taskforce. They're going to go through each and every file, figure out who it is that we can release, who should be prosecuted, and then there may be a third category of people that can't be prosecuted but we don't want to release. And this taskforce has been tasked with the responsibility of figuring out what to do with them.

LYDEN: Let's say there's captured senior al-Qaeda leaders with information about future attacks. Should they be brought to the U.S. and given lawyers if - I mean, I realize this is a hypothetical - but perhaps...

Rear Admiral HUTSON: Sure.

LYDEN: ...not so hypothetical.

Rear Admiral HUTSON: Well, if you've got senior people that you want to prosecute, you have to give them lawyers. The third executive order that the president signed sets up a very high-level taskforce to look at what we're going to do with detainees in the future. If we believe that they've got information, they need to be interrogated. If we believe that they've done bad things, they need to be prosecuted. ..TEXT: LYDEN: There has been some concern, though, amongst relatives of those killed in, say, 9/11, who supported military tribunals and Guantanamo. What do you say to them?

Rear Admiral HUTSON: I say that we are not trying to release people that are guilty. The question is do we have the right people?

LYDEN: You know, there is news this week of a Saudi detainee who had been released, went to Yemen, and has been associated with bombings against the U.S. Embassy there. What about the release of some of these people who go back to commit acts of terrorism?

Rear Admiral HUTSON: Well, I have a couple thoughts about that. One is if we knew he was dangerous, why did we release him? Why didn't we prosecute him? The other is, people are dangerous. There are tens of thousands of people in that part of the world who hate us - more than that probably. The 245 people at Guantanamo are a drop in the bucket. And as long as we detain them without prosecuting them, without justifying the detention in any way, all we're doing is turning those potential enemies into real enemies.

You know, it's a cruel world out there. Life's tough. People hate us. We need to look over the horizon with a long view strategically, rather than just to the end of our nose tactically with regard to 245 people at Guantanamo, some of whom are dangerous.

LYDEN: Admiral John Hutson is a former Navy judge advocate general and the dean of the Franklin Pierce Law Center in New Hampshire. Thanks very much for talking with us, admiral.

Rear Admiral HUTSON: Thank you.

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