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Guantanamo installs former Nimitz commander as 18th prison boss in stealth ceremony

The war court headquarters at Camp Justice, as seen through a broken window at an obsolete air hangar at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on February 28, 2015, in an image approved for release by the U.S. military. (Carol Rosenberg/Miami Herald/TNS)

Navy Rear Adm. John Ring, a former commander of the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier, became the 18th commander of Guantanamo prison operations Tuesday, taking charge of a 1,700-member military and civilian staff responsible for 41 war-on-terror captives.

The prison spokeswoman, Navy Cmdr. Anne Leanos, disclosed after the fact that Navy Adm. Kurt Tidd, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, installed Ring and relieved Rear Adm. Edward Cashman in a ceremony that was closed to nonmilitary media coverage. The ceremony was not recorded, Leanos said.

Cashman took over in April 2017 in a ceremony that was open to independent press coverage. He became the first new commander of the prison of the Trump administration, a period when, despite President Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to pack the prison cells, no new captives were added. Cashman’s next assignment is with a U.S. Navy force assigned to a NATO mission.

Cashman presided during a period when the detention center staff stripped the words “legal” and “transparent” from its mission statement. He also implemented a policy directive from the Pentagon that, for the first time, declared detainee art projects U.S. government property and halted the release of artwork for the public to see.

Pentagon spokesmen said officials were troubled by an art exhibit in New York that offered to sell the art of already released war-on-terror detainees. The prison then stripped a once-proud stop for guests from distinguished visitors to reporters to see the prisoners’ art projects, and photograph them.

Ring takes over ahead of the Ramadan holiday, generally a peaceful time at the prison, and ahead of a busy time of demolition of empty prison cells that Cashman inherited. Those include the base’s iconic Camp X-Ray and also the first prisoner-of-war-style internment site, Camp 4.

Also, the Pentagon is negotiating the repatriation from Guantanamo of a Saudi man who pleaded guilty to being an al-Qaida terrorist and then turned prosecution informant. If it happens, it would be Trump’s first release from the detention center.

Ring would preside over preliminary planning for a new $115 million barracks for prison troops — the most ambitious, permanent and costly construction project ever of the detention center that opened on Jan. 11, 2002. The Pentagon also has asked Congress for $69 million to build a new Top Secret prison for 15 captives who were previously held in the CIA’s secret prison network, the Black Sites.

Leanos said Ring was unavailable to speak with reporters Tuesday but was considering meeting with journalists coming to the base later this month for a pretrial hearing in the Sept. 11 death penalty case.

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© 2018 Miami Herald

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