Since the Guantanamo Bay detention camp stood up in 2002, nearly 780 prisoners have been housed there. Today, the facility holds just 40 men, one who has been convicted and 39 others who are detainees, said Navy Adm. Craig S. Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command. Now, there are plans to adjust operations at the facility to reflect this new reality.
"There's a heavy guard footprint," Faller said, speaking during a briefing at the Pentagon. "What drives the size of the guard is, in some respects, the spread-out layout of the detention facility."
The admiral said that as part of a Combatant Command review process, Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper had raised the issue of increasing efficiency and effectiveness at the detention facility, while at the same time not compromising force protection, security of information or the mission of the Guantanamo military commission.
"We've gone through a number of courses of action, and we think there's a way to consolidate footprint and not compromise force protection, and not compromise in any way the Commission process and so we're on a conditions-based path to do that. As we meet conditions, we're going to look to best consolidate the footprint."
Faller said that he doesn't consider possible changes at the detention facility to be a "reduction." Rather, operations will be adjusted to meet the mission requirement as it currently exists.
"I think that the way I would look at what we're doing in the detention facility ... is we are right-sizing that. We're making it fit for the task, the purpose and the numbers," he said. "So there'll be savings and a tremendous manpower savings and a cost savings for consolidation on footprint, but it's absolutely the right thing to do. And so I wouldn't look at it as a reduction so much as a re-balance."
Faller was in Washington so that he could testify on Capitol Hill regarding the Southcom portion of the DOD's fiscal year 2021 budget request.
The admiral said that, among other things, he discussed with lawmakers the importance of maintaining a competitive edge in Central and South America.
"It's our assessment that the neighborhood's becoming an increasingly contested strategic space in the global competition with China and Russia," he said. "And we do maintain our positional advantage here. However, that advantage is eroding and it's challenging our ability to maintain the favorable balance of regional power that's strictly called for here in this hemisphere in the National Defense Strategy."