By Ann Scott Tyson and Julie Tate
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, May 10, 2008
The Army officer named in March as the military's chief liaison to Pakistan has been pulled from that assignment partly because of controversy in that country over his past command of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a U.S. military official confirmed yesterday.
Maj. Gen. Jay W. Hood is in line for "a position of greater responsibility" at the headquarters of U.S. Central Command, which oversees the Middle East and Central Asia, the officials said yesterday, confirming an account that first appeared in yesterday's editions of the New York Times.
Hood's initial selection, meant to boost cooperation on counterterrorism issues, drew quick criticism from Pakistani politicians and news organizations.
"It is a slap on the face of Pakistan and its 160 million people," Fazlur Rahman, a Pakistani religious party leader, said on a television show in March. Rahman called Hood "a notorious person, who besides insulting and inflicting mental torture on Muslims, six times, confirmedly desecrated . . . the Holy Koran."
Last week, the News, a newspaper in Pakistan, called the appointment "unfortunate" and asked, "What is the message coming out of the Pentagon for Pakistanis by this insensitive act?"
A U.S. military spokesman said Hood's shift stemmed from unexpected job openings at Central Command in Tampa. "The detailing of military people is a very dynamic situation," said Navy Capt. James Graybeal, a Central Command spokesman. "There were unforeseen vacancies that developed here at Centcom headquarters of greater responsibility that he is being considered for." Graybeal could not specify those positions.
But another military official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the subject's sensitivity, said Pakistani opposition "certainly has to be part of the calculus," adding: "You'd have to be crazy not to read the Pakistan media" and understand the Pakistani sentiment against the appointment.
Still, the official emphasized that the Pakistani government did not have a say in the appointment. "This is a U.S. decision," the official said, "so it should not be characterized as 'the Pakistan government vetoed this' -- they don't have that authority."
Hood, a field artillery officer and 33-year Army veteran with a master's degree in national security from the Naval War College, until last month commanded First Army Division East at Fort Meade.
The controversy around Hood stems from his time as the commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, under U.S. Southern Command, from March 2004 to March 2006.
Hood's tenure involved the inception of the restraint chair for Guantanamo detainees on hunger strikes. Detainees were strapped to chairs and force-fed nutrients through thick nasal tubes.
Hood was also the commander when a scandal erupted over mishandling of the Koran in the summer of 2005. After Newsweek reported that a Koran had been flushed down a toilet, at least 16 people were killed in protest riots around the world.
Newsweek later retracted the story, but a Pentagon probe examined 13 specific allegations of Koran desecration at the prison dating to early 2002 and found three in which the mishandling was "very likely" deliberate.
Two others were "very likely" accidental, and eight were unfounded, Hood said.
During Hood's tenure, 167 detainees were transferred out of the facility. In February 2006, the United Nations concluded that the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay violated their rights to physical and mental health and, in some cases, constituted torture. It particularly criticized the force-feeding.