Former Gitmo Commander Denied Pakistan Post
MG Jay Hood’s appointment as the top U.S. military officer in Pakistan has been pulled owing to Pakistani complaints about a previous stop in his career as commander at Guantánamo.
When the Pentagon announced in March that Maj. Gen. Jay W. Hood would become the senior American officer based in Pakistan, it reflected the military’s aim to put a crisis-tested veteran in a critical job at a pivotal time in the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan’s tribal areas. But nearly two months later, the military has quietly canceled the assignment of General Hood, a 33-year Army veteran who was excoriated in the Pakistani news media for one of his previous jobs: commander of the United States prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
During General Hood’s command from 2004 to 2006, military authorities force-fed with tubes detainees who were engaging in hunger strikes at the Guantánamo prison, a step they justified as necessary to prevent the prisoners from committing suicide to protest their indefinite confinement. Also during General Hood’s tenure, reports that an American guard may have desecrated a Koran stirred wide protests in the Islamic world.
The decision to withdraw General Hood’s assignment has not been announced, but it appears to reflect the widening shadow that the military prison at Guantánamo is casting over American foreign policy. While the United States considers Pakistan a close ally in its counterterrorism efforts, the accounts by Pakistanis who have returned to Pakistan after being held at Guantánamo Bay have added to anti-American sentiment in the country.
Several leading Pakistani military and foreign affairs commentators denounced General Hood’s selection in recent weeks, calling on their new government to block his appointment. In interviews this week, American military officials said they had reluctantly concluded that General Hood’s effectiveness could be seriously hindered, and that his personal safety might even be at risk if he were to take up the post.
Ironically, in addition to the “Koran flushing” incident having been debunked, Hood actually tried to clean up Gitmo.
General Hood, who took command of the detention center at Guantánamo Bay in March 2004, shortly before the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq broke, sought to put a more human face on it. He was credited by lawyers for the prisoners and human rights groups with having improved the treatment of detainees, and it was soon after he took over that some of the most severe interrogation methods were curtailed.
But he also had to deal with the fallout of a report in Newsweek asserting that a military inquiry was expected to find that a Koran had been flushed down a toilet at the detention center. The magazine later retracted the article, but the military inquiry concluded that a soldier had inadvertently splashed urine on a Koran. The magazine’s original assertion led to riots in Pakistan and Afghanistan that left at least 17 people dead.
Hood will get a plum assignment on the CENTCOM staff instead.