Detainee legal status makes Joint Detention Mission unique

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Detainee legal status makes Joint Detention Mission unique[edit]

A member of the Joint Detention Group guard force allows a detainee to pick out his reading material inside Camp V. The guard force integrates many programs to improve the quality of life here to include reading material and electronic entertainment such as televisions.

Editor’s note: This is the third of a three part series. The identification of Soldiers operating in the Joint Detention Group has been omitted due to operational security.

The days are long, and the job is difficult. But, the majority of the service members who work the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay conduct themselves professionally.

There are many similarities in the Joint Detention Group’s mission and that of a state or federal correctional institution. However, the differences are also varied. Col. David Heath, JDG commander, explained that there are two major differences between the detention operations at Guantanamo Bay and corrections in the United States: the detainee’s legal status and the lack of a rehabilitative mission for the JDG.

“We don’t have a mission to do any rehabilitation,” Heath said. “Some of the programs we do for intellectual stimulation have a rehabilitative effect on those who take advantage of it, but there’s no specific program designed. My responsibility is the care, custody and control of detained belligerents. In a sense, I’m a caretaker. I feed them, clothe them and make sure they have medical care and a place to sleep.”

The officer-in-charge with the 447th Military Police Company, also a corrections officer for the State of Ohio, reiterated Heath’s assessment on the difference between JDG operations and stateside corrections.

“The big difference here is that we do more of a sustainment mission,” the 447th MP Co. OIC said. “We’re temporarily holding these individuals until they’re released or go to court. Back home we do rehabilitation. We try to teach those inmates ways to cope with stress, financial issues, give them a skill, so that when they’re released they can be a carpenter, mechanic etc. They have a set date that comes, and they’re gone.”

The OIC explained that the detainees here are given general programs to keep them occupied, but nothing specific. The JDG is keeping detainees engaged until the courts decide what to do with them. The sustainment mission aligns with Heath’s second difference between the JDG and corrections in the United States – the legal status of the detainees.

“No one here … is a sentenced inmate. For instance, when I worked at Fort Lewis, Washington, all of the inmates there had received a sentence through a court-martial,” Heath explained. “The detainees here are under indefinite detention until I’m ordered to transfer them to somebody else.”

Heath said that the legal status of the detainees at Guantanamo provides challenges for the guards and the JDG leadership.

“Under the military system you get a set number of days off of your sentence per month for good behavior,” Heath explained. “That good time can be taken away if an inmate commits another offense. They can be court-martialed again. I don’t have that here. There’s no time to take away. All we can do is keep them occupied in something productive that doesn’t involve tormenting the guards or figuring out ways to hurt the guards. Incentives for good behavior are slim here.”

Heath said it’s the detainees’ lack of sentence that really makes them different from state and federal inmates. But, despite the differences, the professionalism in the Soldiers’ day-to-day interactions with detainees is evident when leadership speaks about the guard force.

“I have not heard any cases of abuse since I’ve been here,” Heath said when discussing the guard force’s treatment of detainees. “We make sure it doesn’t happen by leadership and supervision. I tell the guards it doesn’t matter what they did to get here. They’re here, and it’s our job to take care of them with dignity and respect, even when they don’t deserve it.”

The JDG service members come from all walks of life. But, regardless if they’re from the Hispanic, machismo neighborhoods of California, the suburbs of Pennsylvania or the fields of the Midwest; their common purpose of service, despite operating under the microscope of the international community, weaves a tightly knit society of professional Soldiers who are honor bound and determined to carry out their mission.

Article by 1ST LT. Macario Mora