Friday, 30 October 2020
A soldier stands watch in a guard tower at Camp Delta, Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF Guantanamo photo by U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant Michael R. Holzworth)
A soldier stands watch in a guard tower at Camp Delta, Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF Guantanamo photo by U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant Michael R. Holzworth)

GTMOCOM: The Time Has Come to Transfer JTF-GTMO’s Mission to A New, More Permanent Joint Subunified Command

This article was originally published in the 2017 edition of The Reporter, Volume 44, Number 3. Additional resources have been added to enhance the digital version.

News articles and scholarly papers emphasized human rights issues, customary international law, domestic constitutional law, and fiscal considerations in arguing for the closure of GTMO.

Much has been written about the proposed closure of the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (hereinafter “Guantanamo Bay” or “GTMO”). Detainee operations at GTMO are conducted by Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO), a joint force composition under the combatant command, United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). During former President Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House, it appeared as though JTF-GTMO would, in fact, eventually wind down and shutter its operations. Learned scholars from both the private sector and within the Department of Defense (DoD) pontificated about the possible alternatives to the United States’ Guantanamo Bay detainee operations. News articles and scholarly papers emphasized human rights issues, customary international law, domestic constitutional law, and fiscal considerations in arguing for the closure of GTMO. However, with a new President in the White House and a supportive legislature, the tone concerning Guantanamo Bay has drastically changed. It does not appear that GTMO will be closing anytime soon.

This article explores what most previous authors have neglected to address—namely, the notion that our military leaders could consider an alternative to the joint task force structure in favor of a more long-term military solution under joint doctrine. In short, this article recommends that the mission performed by JTF-GTMO be transferred to a new, subunified command under SOUTHCOM, and that the existing joint task force be disestablished.

Joint Task Force Guantanamo facilities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Technical Sergeant Michael R. Holzworth)
Joint Task Force Guantanamo facilities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Technical Sergeant Michael R. Holzworth)

History of Joint Task Force Guantanamo

DoD has continuously been conducting detainee operations at Guantanamo Bay since 2002.[1] Shortly after the 9/11 attacks on the United States, a number of detainees captured in Afghanistan were transferred to Guantanamo and held at Camp X-Ray.[2] Prior to housing these captured detainees, Camp X-Ray had been used to hold migrants fleeing other Caribbean nations; it was a preexisting facility.[3] Guantanamo Bay “was originally intended to serve as a temporary holding facility for Al Qaida, Taliban, and other detainees that came under U.S. control during the War on Terrorism.”[4] SOUTHCOM, the combatant command for the geographic area encompassing Guantanamo Bay, was in charge of the newly established detainee operations.[5]


In January 2002, SOUTHCOM activated Joint Task Force 160 (JTF-160) with both active duty and reserve component military members from the Army, Air Force, Marines and Navy.[6] The majority of JTF-160 was comprised of military police.[7] JTF-160’s mission was to care for the enemy combatants who were captured during the War on Terrorism. It further supported Joint Task Force 170 (JTF-170), which SOUTHCOM established on 16 February, 2002 to coordinate DoD’s and other government agencies’ interrogation efforts in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.[8] JTF-170 served as DoD’s primary interrogation operations command in the region.[9]

Only ten months after the establishment of JTF-160, on 4 November 2002, both JTF-160 and JTF-170 were merged to form JTF-GTMO, which is the same joint task force in existence and operation today.[10] Camp X-Ray closed, but JTF-GTMO continued detainee operations at Camp Delta.[11] Today, there are 41 detainees held at camps within Guantanamo Bay, down from a peak population of 684 in 2003.[12] The declared mission of JTF-GTMO is to conduct the “safe, humane, legal and transparent care and custody of detainees, including those convicted by military commission.[13]

How did JTF-GTMO become a never-ending “temporary” task force without being phased into a more structured, permanent organization or having its mission transferred to another organization within DoD?

JTF-GTMO has been the only task force at Guantanamo Bay conducting detainee operations around the clock since its formation in November 2002. In 2012, an author at the Naval War College who criticized JTF-GTMO as having an “ill-defined organizational structure” identified that, “although JTF’s are meant, by doctrine, to be temporary, unfunded organizations, this one has lasted in excess of ten years.”[14] That was four years ago. JTF-GTMO has now been operating for just shy of fifteen years. How did JTF-GTMO become a never-ending “temporary” task force without being phased into a more structured, permanent organization or having its mission transferred to another organization within DoD? It is clear that partisan politics led to the uncertainty of JTF-GTMO’s fate during the Obama years.

Prior Administration’s Position on Closure of GTMO

Until recently, the Executive branch only supported JTF-GTMO’s existence in the context of a temporary operation. In other words, the former Commander in Chief and the Obama Administration favored the closure of Guantanamo Bay; therefore, military leaders presumably refrained from permanency planning for JTF-GTMO. During President Obama’s terms in office, the official posture of the Administration was that detainee operations at Guantanamo Bay would wind down and eventually be shuttered.

In fact, then President Obama felt so strongly about GTMO’s closure, he incorporated his position into the official National Security Strategy document. First, in 2010, the document asserted, “[t]o deny violent extremists one of their most potent recruitment tools, we will close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.”[15] In his successive term, Obama again reaffirmed his intent to close Guantanamo Bay in his revised 2015 National Security Strategy document. He declared “[w]e have transferred many detainees from Guantanamo Bay, and we are working with Congress to remove the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers so that we can finally close it.”[16] Under President Obama, the only impediment to the cessation of detainee operations at Guantanamo Bay appeared to be the Congress which, for years during his tenure, passed legislation in the form of the annual defense spending bill—the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)—which restricted the use of taxpayer funds to transfer or release detainees, or to construct or modify any facilities on U.S. soil that could be used to house GTMO detainees.[17]

Current Administration’s Position on Maintaining JTF-GTMO’s Operations

The political landscape shifted dramatically in November 2016 with the election of Donald J. Trump. Whatever uncertainty there was over JTF-GTMO’s future now looks settled. Detainee operations are not going away in the foreseeable future. The same Congress that restricted President Obama from permanently terminating JTF-GTMO now enjoys ardent support from its new Executive. President Trump will almost certainly never veto legislation that restricts the use of funds to close Guantanamo Bay. On the contrary, as demonstrated infra, President Trump has actively sought funding that benefits JTF-GTMO. Everything he has said concerning Guantanamo Bay, from the campaign trail to the White House, reflects a position of more permanent detainee operations.

President Trump quickly reversed course from President Obama, expressing his intentions to keep Guantanamo Bay open. After the election, but before being sworn in, President-elect Trump wrote “[t]here should be no further released from Gitmo. These are extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield.”[18] Previously, while campaigning, President Trump even announced he would put more detainees in the facility.[19] At a campaign rally, then candidate Trump decried President Obama’s stance on Guantanamo Bay, saying, “I watched President Obama talking about Gitmo, right, Guantanamo Bay, which, by the way, we are keeping open. Which we are keeping open…and we’re gonna load it up with bad dudes, believe me, we’re gonna load it up.”[20] In a Twitter post before taking office, he criticized President Obama’s release of 122 detainees as “[j]ust another terrible decision!”[21]

As President, there has been no indication that Trump will change his campaign position. In fact, all actions to date—from press briefings to the Administration’s requests for congressional appropriations—suggest that Guantanamo Bay is here to stay. Recently, speaking for the President at a daily press briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer answered a question on the status of Guantanamo Bay. He stated:

I don’t have anything to announce with respect to its expansion or its use—expansion use. I think the President has commented on the importance of Guantanamo and the need to maintain that the people who are there are not people who seek to do anyone good. They’re there for a reason, and he has no plans to close it, if that’s what you’re asking.[22]

In another press briefing, Mr. Spicer conveyed that the President “believes that Guantanamo Bay does serve a very, very healthy purpose in our national security in making sure that we don’t bring terrorists to our seas.”[23] Given the campaign promises of President Trump regarding GTMO, as well as the White House’s official stance on JTF-GTMO’s operations, the DoD would do well to emphasize joint planning for the longevity of Guantanamo’s detainee operations. It is not only the President’s message that compels analysis of transfer of JTF-GTMO’s mission to a more permanent organization. Congress, too, has demonstrated a commitment to maintaining Guantanamo Bay and the JTF-GTMO mission there.

Before President Trump took office, Congress yet again loudly spoke on the matter by passing the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (FY17 NDAA) in which it reflected congressional intent to continue detainee operations at Guantanamo Bay. As it had done for several years in a row, in the FY17 NDAA, Congress placed several funding restrictions related to Guantanamo Bay. First, it explicitly prohibited any funds from being used to transfer or release detainees.[24] Second, it proscribed the use of funds to construct or modify any facilities within the United States for the purpose of housing detainees transferred from Guantanamo Bay.[25] This restriction does not apply to construction or modification of any facilities at Guantanamo Bay.[26] Third, Congress disallowed any funds to be used for the transfer or release of detainees to Libya, Somalia, Syria or Yemen.[27] Finally, the FY17 NDAA plainly stated that “[n]o amounts authorized to be appropriated or otherwise made available for the Department of Defense for fiscal year 2017 may be used…to close or abandon United States Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba[,]…to relinquish control of Guantanamo Bay to the Republic of Cuba,” or to modify the 1934 treaty between the United States and Cuba in a way that would constructively close Guantanamo Bay.[28]

Congressional Support for Continuing JTF-GTMO’s Mission

In the most recent NDAA, Congress also affirmatively appropriated significant funds for various military construction projects and energy conservation projects at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, thereby enabling DoD to continue to spend on projects vital to the sustainment of GTMO’s detention operations.[29] Despite voicing strong objection to the restrictions Congress placed on closing Guantanamo Bay, then President Obama signed the FY17 NDAA into law because it contained many “vital benefits for military personnel and their families,” and provided “critical authorizations” needed to counter terrorist threats.[30] Hence came another year of congressional defense spending that focused, at least in part, on keeping the Guantanamo Bay detention facilities open and operational.

In addition to the NDAA signed by President Obama on the eve of the change in administrations (which already provided certain defense dollars for Guantanamo Bay projects), President Trump’s new White House quickly asked for even more congressional appropriations for GTMO. Now, the White House’s official budget requests specifically seek funds that would enhance operations and physical constructions projects at Guantanamo Bay for the benefit of detainee operations. These actions signal a presidential resolve to keep the detention camps open and operational. In March 2017, the White House submitted its appropriations request for Fiscal Year 2017 to the Speaker of the House, which contained, inter alia, a request for $1.1 billion in Department of Defense overseas contingency operations (OCO) funding. The Administration explained that the request “also includes planning and design of construction projects in support of Detention Operations at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.”[31]

Joint Doctrine Governing Joint Task Force Operations

Joint Publication 1, which is “the capstone publication for all joint doctrine, presenting fundamental principles and overarching guidance for the employment of the Armed Forces of the United States,” provides the starting point for an analysis of whether JTF-GTMO, as it currently operates, is the appropriate mechanism for carrying out detainee operations in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM and the global war on terrorism.[32] Joint Publication 1 explains how a joint task force is established. “[A] JTF is a joint force that is constituted and so designated by SecDef, a CCDR, a subordinate unified commander, or an existing JTF commander.”[33] JTFs are typically established on either a geographical area or functional basis “when the mission has a specific limited objective and does not require overall centralized control of logistics.”[34] A JTF, according to joint doctrine, is viewed as a composition of forces performing a temporary mission. “The establishing authority typically establishes a JTF for a focused and temporary purpose….”[35] When that mission is complete, by either accomplishment or passage of time, the JTF should be disestablished. “The establishing authority dissolves a JTF when the purpose for which it was created has been achieved or when it is no longer required.”[36]

Furthermore, Joint Publication 3-33, which specifically governs Joint Task Force Headquarters, charges the joint forces establishing authority with the responsibility of defining the joint operations area (JOA) “in terms of geography or time.”[37] The establishing authority is charged with preparing a directive that, among other things, “establishes the support relationships with amplifying instructions…[such as the] time, place, and duration of the supporting effort…and authority for the cessation of support.”[38] Joint doctrine places much emphasis on geography and duration of time when determining when to disestablish a JTF or convert operations to an indefinite mission.

Determining the Appropriate Command and Control Option When a Joint Task Force Mission Becomes More Enduring

If the establishing authority finds that “the temporary circumstances that originally required joint operations may become more long-lasting,” he or she must decide on “the best option to accomplish a continuing requirement.”[39] There are several command and control (C2) options available to the establishing authority, some of which may be more suitable than continuing the JTF in its current state. Options include: (1) continuing the existing JTF’s mission for an indefinite period of time; (2) transition the JTF’s mission to another replacement JTF (this has been done at Guantanamo Bay in the past, when JTF-160 and JTF-170 merged to form JTF-GTMO); (3) assigning the mission to a military Service component headquarters when joint operations are not required to perform the particular mission; (4) transition the JTF’s operations to the control of a combatant command staff directorate if the focus is more on management of a long-term program rather than command and control of forces engaged in operations; or (5) the transition of the JTF to a multinational headquarters.[40] Before delving into the specifics of the checklist contained in Joint Publication 3-33 used to determine the best C2 option for a JTF, three of the above options can be dismissed.

Today, a decade-and-a-half into detainee operations, there is no indication that JTF-GTMO will serve a mere “temporary purpose.”

First, JTF-GTMO’s mission should not be transitioned to yet another replacement joint task force. This occurred in November 2002 when JTF-160 and JTF-170 merged into JTF-GTMO. Because JTF-GTMO has been operating in its current state for almost fifteen years with no real changes in its mission, it does not make sense to transition the mission to another joint task force. Returning to basic joint doctrine, the whole premise behind a joint task force is that it is established for a “focused and temporary purpose.”[41] Today, a decade-and-a-half into detainee operations, there is no indication that JTF-GTMO will serve a mere “temporary purpose.” Accordingly, transitioning the same exact mission to another joint task force, which would simply utilize the same military resources and assets as those currently used at Guantanamo Bay, runs counter to joint doctrine.

Second, JTF-GTMO’s operations should not simply be transitioned to a combatant command (CCMD[42]) staff directorate. Joint Publication 3-33 explains that this option exists in cases where a JTF’s focus is more on management of a long-term program rather than command and control of forces engaged in operations.[43] Given the size and complexity of JTF-GTMO’s mission—thousands of uniformed military and civilian DoD personnel, a full complement of joint staff directorates, a medical mission, detention group mission, military commissions support mission, and even other federal agency professionals—a CCMD staff directorate would be ill-equipped to manage the actual day-to-day operations or control the forces engaged in those operations. JTF-GTMO requires much more command and control over its operational forces than a CCMD staff directorate could provide. For this reason, transition of JTF-GTMO’s operations to a CCMD staff directorate is not a viable option.

Third, the option to transition JTF-GTMO to a multinational headquarters is arguably the least favorable option to the United States government. Given the sheer amount of negative publicity and attention—whether justified or not[44]—that Guantanamo Bay has garnered in the international community, relinquishing this mission related to detainee operations to any non-U.S. governing body would be counterintuitive. Thus, even though “[a]s a law of war detention facility, [JTF-GTMO is] committed to the safe, humane, legal and transparent care and custody of all detainees…in accordance with the Geneva Conventions and [is] in compliance with all U.S. laws,”[45] it is highly doubtful that a multinational headquarters, such as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), would want to adopt JTF-GTMO’s mission in the first instance. More importantly, the Executive and Legislative branches would probably never approve of this option. Accordingly, transitioning JTF-GTMO to a multinational headquarters is a poor option.

Having excluded three of the five options for determining the future of JTF-GTMO’s mission and operations, two alternatives remain which appear to be viable and worthy of further exploration. Specifically, the joint task force establishing authority, having ostensibly already made the determination that JTF-GTMO’s once-temporary mission has evolved into a more lasting one, should choose between either: (1) continuing the existing joint task force’s mission for an indefinite period of time via some appropriate organizational structure and mechanism; or (2) assigning the mission to one of the four military Service components because he or she finds that joint operations are not necessary to accomplish JTF-GTMO’s mission. The authors believe the first option would be the most appropriate, and suggest that a new, subunified command under SOUTHCOM could be the answer.

In choosing between the only two viable options for C2 of JTF-GTMO’s mission at Guantanamo Bay, the establishing authority must collaborate and work with the Commander of JTF-GTMO (CJTF), the CJTF’s subordinate JTF commanders, and other subject matter experts as needed to perform a comprehensive mission analysis based on future operational requirements.[46] In conducting this assessment, Joint Publication 3-33 contains a checklist that should be followed, with questions to be answered. Relevant “key questions” that need to be addressed before determining the best possible C2 option for more permanent detainee operations at Guantanamo Bay would include the following:

  1. What strategic guidance exists on the new mission or tasks?
  2. What is the new desired end state?
  3. What is the fundamental problem that must be solved to achieve the end state (the factors that must be addressed to move the current system to the desired system)?
  4. What is the new mission or set of tasks associated with the desired end state?
  5. Do mission analysis and a revised understanding of the operational environment and problem confirm that military presence and operations are required for the foreseeable future?
  6. Does the mission require joint operations?
  7. If the mission requires joint operations, what level of joint HQ is required[?] [C]urrent JTF level, a higher joint HQ, or a subordinate JTF?
  8. ….
  9. If the mission does not require joint operations, what Service component is most suited to assume the mission (i.e., will future operations be primarily land, air, or maritime in nature)?[47]

Some of these questions are easily answered based on existing publicly available information. For example, as discussed supra, based on President Trump’s stated position, JTF-GTMO’s mission is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. Moreover, Congress for years has passed defense bills that ensure the longevity of detainee operations at Guantanamo Bay. Accordingly, military presence and operations are expected to be required on a more permanent basis.[48] Because JTF-GTMO’s mission will continue, some of Joint Publication 3-33’s checklist questions require additional analysis by the CCMD, CJTF, JTF commanders, and experts. This planning group must determine whether there will be a new desired end state and, if so, ascertain what set of mission tasks is needed to achieve that end state. Such challenging questions will require military leaders to obtain significant guidance and direction from our political leaders. Still, other issues can be resolved by the team based on its working knowledge of how JTF-GTMO operates and the dictates of the JOA.

The authors’ understanding of the JTF-GTMO landscape leads them to conclude that the current mission does require joint operations. Therefore, they do not support the idea that one Service component should inherit the whole mission of JTF-GTMO. Even though at least one military scholar has suggested that “the JTF could be disbanded and replaced with a single Army Military Police Brigade,” which might on its face appear logical due to the fact that the “Army is the executive agent for detention operations,”[49] there exist numerous additional peripheral “sub-operations”[50] (in support of the primary detention operations) performed by JTF-GTMO. Such a JOA creates the type of complexity that appears to exceed the Army’s resources if it were required to carry on JTF-GTMO’s operations alone. The joint contributions and expertise of the various detention group organizations, sub-organizations, staff directorates, military commissions support activities, and intra-agency partners, all tend to favor the selection of the option to continue joint operations. Transfer to one Service component is untenable. However, because GTMO’s joint operations should be implemented on a more permanent basis with a long-lasting C2 structure consistent with joint doctrine, the JTF structure must change. A subunified command under SOUTHCOM is the most pragmatic option.

A Subunified Command Is a Sensible C2 Option to Sustain JTF-GTMO’s Mission

Effective command and control is the linchpin of organizational success. No matter the level of command, commanders must have an organizational construct that allows for the simplest and most viable operational environment to accomplish their assigned mission(s). Combatant command subordinate units range in size, functionality, and mission focus; however, there is no “one size fits all” mold for overseas contingency operations. In fact, an in-depth analysis is the only way to ensure that a unit, such as JTF-GTMO, is properly and appropriately designated to maximize resources and effectuate efficient command and control.

When determining whether or not a subunified command is the appropriate structure for JTF-GTMO, there are six major factors that must be addressed: (1) effectiveness; (2) responsiveness; (3) readiness; (4) agility; (5) simplicity; and (6) efficiency.[51] Reviewing these concerns, a subunified command seems to be a valid option to assume JTF-GTMO’s mission.

First, with respect to effectiveness, the inquiry focuses on whether the option enables accomplishment of the mission, and whether it can set conditions and provide value to subordinates.[52] One needs only to look at current examples of both geographic (e.g., United States Forces Korea, United States Forces Japan, and Alaska Command) and functional (e.g., USCYBERCOM) subunified commands to validate the perceived effectiveness of a GTMO subunified command element. More permanent established roles and responsibilities would enhance C2, even if not on a full spectrum basis.

Regarding the second factor, responsiveness, the question posed is whether the option of a subunified command can be executed within the mission time constraints?[53] Here, a subunified command would be more than capable of responding to GTMO detainee operations mission requirements at least as well as the current JTF construct is presently responding, and would probably be even more responsive by having the resource (e.g., fiscal and manpower) allocations of a subunified command versus smaller, less permanent, Joint Task Force. Because there are no time constraints other than the legal statutory requirements for detainees being tried by the Military Commissions, responsiveness would not be degraded under a subunified command organization platform.

Third, readiness also favors choosing a subunified command structure. In ascertaining whether such a C2 option accounts for the readiness, capability, and capacity of the designated combatant command (SOUTHCOM) to conduct the mission, a joint planning group can resolve this concern in the affirmative.[54] The more efficient exercise of C2 would allow for a GTMO subunified command to better address readiness, capability, and capacity as directed or designated. More clearly delineated lines of authority—specifically for administrative control (ADCON) as it relates to various Service component issues that frequently arise in a joint environment—would only strengthen readiness, capability, and capacity.

Fourth, a subunified command’s continuation of JTF-GTMO’s mission would also pass the agility test. To determine whether this C2 option would enable flexibility and agility for SOUTHCOM and the joint forces at Guantanamo Bay to respond and adapt to potential mission changes, the planning group should examine other geographic subunified commands as demonstrative examples.[55] The authors believe that SOUTHCOM’s ability to flex the mission construct of GTMO would not weaken under a subunified command organization. Any change in current detainee operations, like any change in other existing geographic or functional subunified commands, would have to be adjusted as directed by the combatant command through standard exercise of C2.

Concerning the fifth factor, simplicity, the analysis centers on whether the C2 option proposed allows for ease in understanding the roles of headquarters and relationships among relevant mission partners.[56] A subunified command at Guantanamo Bay, as previously addressed under the factors of “readiness” and “agility,” supra, would create a more simplified line of C2. That, in turn, would have positive second and third order effects by eliminating duplicative chains of command (e.g., service component command authorities) thus allowing for a single voice to set the tone for a vital national mission.

Finally, the sixth factor, efficiency, weighs heavily in favor of choosing a subunified command at Guantanamo Bay. This C2 option allows for efficiency in terms of force structure and headquarters personnel manning in today’s resource-constrained environment, because the manner in which a permanent command is better equipped to requisition steady-state, long-term billets to fill manning requirements prevails over a joint task force construct.[57] As a subunified command, GTMO would be able to execute more regular and consistent manning and military construction plans instead of the current process of constant short-term deployment rotations and temporary fixes to structural projects. Permanency certainly would allow for better long-term planning which, in theory, would alleviate unnecessary spending while maximizing cost savings. As one author identified, because JTF-GTMO is currently a tenant unit of Naval Station (NAVSTA) Guantanamo Bay, it is ineligible for military construction projects and defense program submissions for direct congressional appropriation.[58]

This essentially means that any and all additions in infrastructure and support to the JTF must come from NAVSTA Guantanamo. However, NAVSTA Guantanamo organizationally falls neither under the JTF, nor within the auspices of SOUTHCOM. Instead, NAVSTA Guantanamo reports to Naval Region Southeast, which is completely outside the purview of the military components of the [geographic combatant command].[59]

Accordingly, there is obviously both a strategic and operational disconnect between the resources needed by JTF-GTMO and those that might hopefully be obtained by NAVSTA Guantanamo for the benefit of its most important and highest-visibility tenant unit. This tension would be relieved if JTF-GTMO’s operations and mission were transferred to a new subunified combatant command at GTMO.

Disestablishment of the joint task force structure in favor of a new subunified command is consistent with joint doctrine….


Military organizational structures have always been, and will forever be, constantly changing to adapt to the various threats faced by the United States. As our enemies continue to strategically attack national interests through various tactics, it is critical for DoD and combatant commands to organize subordinate units in the most efficient and resourceful way possible. Transferring the mission of JTF-GTMO to a newly created subunified command—perhaps aptly named “GTMOCOM”—that would be subordinate to the geographic combatant command SOUTHCOM in the C2 structure, would allow JTF-GTMO’s vital mission to continue indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay. The disestablishment of the joint task force structure in favor of a new subunified command is consistent with joint doctrine, will streamline C2 and mission processes, and will enable conservation of resources in a fiscally austere environment. It would also comport with the collective policy positions and intentions of our elected civilian leaders to have an enduring mission.

About the Authors

Major Jeffrey L. Lorek, USAF

(B.S., Pennsylvania State University; J.D., Cleveland-Marshall College of Law; LL.M., The George Washington University Law School) is a litigation attorney with AFLOA/JACL, most recently serving as Deputy Chief, Labor Relations Branch. Major Lorek is licensed to practice in Ohio, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.

Senior Master Sergeant Jacob M. Wolf, USAF

(B.S., University of Maryland University College) is currently working toward his M.S. in Criminal Justice at Grand Canyon University. SMSgt Wolf has extensive experience in joint and combined environments. Both Major Lorek and SMSgt Wolf have deployed three times to various Areas of Responsibility (AOR), including to Joint Task Force Guantanamo. SMSgt Wolf is the NAF Paralegal Manager for 11 AF/JA.

return to top


[1] Mission Overview, Joint Task Force Guantanamo (Feb. 2, 2017) [hereinafter JTF-GTMO Mission], http://www.jtfgtmo. (“The JTF began operations in early 2002 to detain individuals who were captured on the battlefield for engaging in or conspiring to engage in terrorist activities.”).
[2] Colonel Donnie L. Thomas, Joint Task Force-Guantanamo Bay, Cuba: Open or Close?, U.S. Army War C. Strategy Res. Project (2013), pdf?AD=ADA590370, at 6.
[3] See id.
[4] Id.
[5] See id; see also Area of Responsibility, U.S. Southern Command, http://www.southcom. mil/About/Area-of-Responsibility/ (last visited Apr. 19, 2017).
[6] Thomas, supra note 2, at 6.
[7] Id.
[8] Id.
[9] Id.
[10] Id.
[11] See id.
[12] Guantanamo Bay Naval Station Fast Facts (2017), CNN, http://www.cnn. com/2013/09/09/world/guantanamo-bay-naval-station-fast-facts/ (last updated Apr. 7, 2017).
[13] JTF-GTMO Mission, supra note 1.
[14] Major Jamison D. Braun, JTF-GTMO: A 10-year Relook, U.S. Naval War C. Paper, at 2, 6 (2012),
[15] Barack Obama, National Security Strategy of the United States: the White House at 22 (May 2010),
[16] Barack Obama, National Security Strategy of the United States: the White House at 19-20 (February 2015), at 19-20, 
[17] See, e.g., National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, Pub. L. No. 112-239,; National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014, Pub. L. No. 133-16,; Carl Levin and Howard P. “Buck” McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015, Pub. L. No. 133-291, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016, Pub. L. No. 114-92,; National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2017, Pub. L. No. 114-328, §§ 1032-1035, [hereinafter “FY17 NDAA”].
[18] Dan Lamothe, Trump Says No More Detainees Should Be released from Guantanamo Bay Prison, Washington Post, Jan. 3, 2017), (quoting President Trump’s tweet at 12:20 PM on Jan. 3,2017).
[19] See Madeline Conway, Trump sounds off on Gitmo: ‘There should be no further releases,’ Politico (Jan. 3, 2017),
[20] William Finnegan, President Trump’s Guantanamo Delusion, The New Yorker (Mar. 9, 2017), (quoting then presidential candidate Donald Trump at an unidentified 2016 campaign rally).
[21] Id.
[22] Office of the Press Secretary, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sean Spicer, The White House (Mar. 9, 2017)
[23] Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sean Spicer, 2/21/17, #13, The White House (Feb. 21, 2017),
[24] FY17 NDAA, supra note 17, at § 1032.
[25] Id. § 1033(a).
[26] Id. § 1033(b).
[27] Id. § 1034(1)-(4).
[28] Id. § 1035.(1), (2), and (3).
[29] See id. §§ 2101(b), 2402(b), 4601.
[30] Office of the Press Secretary, Statement by the President on Signing the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017, The White House (Dec. 23, 2016), During his signing statement for the FY17 NDAA, President Obama remarked:

In February, my Administration submitted a comprehensive plan to safely and responsibly close the detention facility. Rather than answer that call and work with my Administration to finally bring this chapter of our history to a close, this bill aims to make the facility a permanent feature of our struggle against terrorism…. It is long past time for the Congress to lift the restrictions it has imposed, work to responsibly and safely close the facility, and remove this blot on our national honor. Unless the Congress changes course, it will be judged harshly by history.


[31] Letter from President Donald J. Trump to Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House, re: FY2017 appropriations request, 16 March 2017 (enclosing 14 March 2017 letter from Mick Mulvaney, Director of Office of Management and Budget, to President Donald J. Trump), [since being cited, this link appears to no longer be available].
[32] Joint Electronic Library, The Joint Publications, Defense Technical Information Center, (last visited Apr. 19, 2017).
[33] Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Pub. 1, Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States, at IV-10 (25 March 2013) [hereinafter “JP 1”],
[34] Id.
[35] Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Pub. 3-33, Task Force Headquarters, at I-4 (30 July 2012) [hereinafter “JP 3-33”].
[36] JP 1, supra note 32, at IV-10.
[37] JP 3-33, supra note 35, at I-2, Figure I-1.
[38] Id.
[39] Id. at I-4.
[40] Id. (“An example of a ‘permanent JTF’ is JTF NORTH in the United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) AOR. This JTF supports federal law enforcement agencies on a continuing basis in the identification and interdiction of suspected transnational threats within and along the approaches to the continental US.”).
[41] Id.
[42] Joint Chiefs of Staff, Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, at 275 (May 2017), (using the acronym “CCMD” for “combatant command”).
[43] JP 3-33, supra note 35, at I-4.
[44] See, e.g., Thomas, supra at note 2, at 12 (citing Joint Task Force-Guantanamo, Fact Sheet-JTF Intelligence, Joint Task Force-Guantanamo, 1 April 2012 (no longer available through JTF-GTMO) (“There have been no substantiated cases of ‘torture’ at Guantanamo. Additionally, contrary to popular opinion, water-boarding has never taken place at Guantanamo Bay.”).
[45] JTF-GTMO Mission, supra at note 1.
[46] JP 3-33, supra note 35, at A-A-1.
[47] Id. at A-A-1, A-A-2.
[48] The need to continue JTF-GTMO’s mission on a more permanent basis can be distinguished from an author’s argument to disband another SOUTHCOM joint task force, Joint Task Force Bravo (JTF-Bravo). In 1995, an article published in the Joint Forces Quarterly argued that JTF-Bravo’s mission could continue to be accomplished without JTF-Bravo’s continued existence in any form whatsoever. See First Lieutenant (1Lt) Scott M. Hines, Standing Down a Joint Task Force, Joint Forces Quarterly, Autumn/Winter 1994-95, at 111, While JTF-Bravo appears to be another example of a “temporary” SOUTHCOM task force that has outlived its useful life as a joint task force organizational structure, the reasons for disestablishing JTF-Bravo are distinguishable from those in support of converting JTF-GTMO to a subunified command. See generally id. However, the authors in the present article agree with some of the arguments posited by 1Lt Scott Hines, which are supportive of the conversion of an essential joint task force mission (such as JTF-GTMO’s detainee operations) into a mission performed by a long-lasting subunified command. Specifically:

What is the message when a JTF is stood up in a crisis, then continued until political pressure terminates it? If DoD wants to exercise a degree of autonomy in choosing when to stand up JTFs, it must act responsibly by standing them down. To avoid the bureaucratic inertia arising in the case of JTF–B, standing down JTFs should be just as methodical a process as standing them up.

Id. at 113.

Braun, supra at note 14, at 17.
Braun, supra at note 14, at 13. “Perhaps Commander Daniel Jones, in his article to the Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG) Journal, expressed the convoluted nature of the JTF best when he asked the question: ‘Any idea what OMC, CSRT, ARB, CITF, ELC, DMO, ISN, JDG, JMG, JIG, HHC, ICRC, JOC, DOC, and JVB mean?,’” citing Daniel Jones, “IA: Life at Guantanamo Bay,” Navy JAG Journal, Winter 2007,, at 10.
[51] Joint Staff J7, Deployable Training Division, Geographic Combatant Commander (GCC) Command and Control Organizational Options, Insights and Best Practices Focus Paper, 2d ed., at 5 (August 2016).
[52] Id.
[53] Id.
[54] See id.
[55] See id.
[56] Id.
[57] See Joint Staff J7, supra at note 50, at 5.
[58] Braun, supra note 14, at 7.
[59] Id.

return to top

Check Also

United States Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps Emblems

Administrative Investigations and Non-judicial Punishment in Joint Environments

By Capt Balaji Narain & Capt Dustin Banks. Intended to be an initial reference when conducting investigations or shepherding NJPs in a joint environment. By flagging the most salient distinctions between the services’ rules, our goal is to help the JAG practitioner keep an eye out for potential pitfalls.