Campus flyer implicates associate vice chancellor of human rights violations during his military service at Guantanamo Bay
An anonymous flyer has recently accused UNC Charlotte’s Associate Vice Chancellor for Safety and Security John Bogdan of overseeing multiple human rights violations during his time as a commander at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. However, the retired Army Colonel has refuted these allegations, calling them “inaccurate” and “a distraction” from his duties at the University.
The flyer states, “In Guantanamo Bay, John Bogdan tortured people – most of whom were cleared for release.” It accuses Bogdan of using religious humiliation as a strategy to pacify detainees, allowing genital searches and commanding detention centers in Iraq and Somalia. It asks, “How could Bogdan possibly be qualified to protect UNCC students, faculty, and staff when all he knows how to do is brutalize his subordinates?”
Bogdan told the Niner Times in an interview on Aug. 30 that the flyer is “generally full of inaccuracies, largely other people’s opinions,” and “a distraction from my primary focus, which is the safety and security of the University.”
Bogdan was appointed as associate vice chancellor for safety and security in late December and began his duties in his first civilian job on Jan. 2. Inside UNC Charlotte wrote in an announcement of his hiring that Bogdan is responsible for managing “the plans and programs that protect lives and property, prevent accidents and incidents and preserve the learning environment and business operations of the University. This includes police and public safety, environmental health and safety, emergency management, and risk management and insurance.”
Director of the Center for Holocaust, Genocide & Human Rights Studies Dr. John Cox told the Niner Times that he was “disturbed” to hear about Bogdan’s background. He said he reached out to Chief of Staff of the Chancellor’s Office Kim Bradley asking why UNC Charlotte felt it needed someone with experience such as Bogdan’s. Bradley responded to Cox, “Throughout his military career, John demonstrated his leadership skills in safety readiness and response, skills applicable to his responsibilities on campus and that were instrumental in our response and ongoing recovery to April 30. We believe he is committed to our mission and he is a valuable addition to our campus community.”
A senior who is active in the Amnesty International chapter at UNC Charlotte told the Niner Times, “UNC Charlotte’s hiring of John Bogdan as associate vice chancellor for safety and security is troubling. His expertise is not suitable for an institution that strives to be inclusive to all races, gender and creeds.”
The flyer, whose author remains anonymous, states that Bogdan ran detention centers in Iraq and Somalia. Bogdan replied that he ran “nothing in Somalia.” However, in December 2013, Director of Amnesty’s Security with Human Rights Daphne Eviatar wrote in the Huffington Post that Bogdan disclosed during a military commission hearing that he ran detention operations in both Iraq and Somalia. According to Eviatar, little is known about U.S. detention in Somalia.
The retired Army Colonel did serve as commander of the 95th Military Police Battalion in Baghdad from 2007 to 2009, where he ran a detention center with “healthy amounts of enemy prisoners of war,” as he told the Niner Times. He also partnered with Iraqi police officials across 50 police stations to develop their security forces. During his tour in Iraq, Bogdan told the Stars and Stripes publication that “‘concerned local citizens’ — armed civilian groups — have played a major part in helping to reduce violence.” This occurred during the surge when the U.S. sent additional troops to Iraq and often cooperated with the local groups.
Bogdan told the Niner Times that he was assigned to his position at Guantanamo in 2012.
From 2012 to 2014, Bogdan served as the warden of the Joint Detention Group at Guantanamo Bay, a U.S. military prison in Cuba. During his time there, he faced criticism from detainees’ attorneys for his harsh rules, like imposing regulations on when attorneys could visit their clients.
In February 2013, the Miami Herald reported that it was revealed during a Guantanamo war court trial that there was a hidden microphone inside of a smoke detector in Echo II, a room where high-profile detainees meet with their attorneys. Bogdan testified that he had no prior knowledge of the bugs and that they had been installed long before his arrival.
In March 2013, the New York Times confirmed with the Defense Department that numerous detainees were participating in a hunger strike. The detainees’ attorneys said the protest was a response to a search in February in which guards allegedly took personal valuables and mishandled the inmates’ Qurans. In a media briefing, Bogdan said that Quran searches had been standard practice for a while. According to a study by UC Davis, 106 of the 166 inmates participated in the hunger strike, 46 of whom were subjected to force-feeding. Shaker Aamer, who was held without trial for 13 years despite being cleared for release twice by the British government, said that the authorities of the prison used techniques such as sharply decreasing the temperature and introducing metal-tipped feeding tubes to ensure consumption by inmates.
When asked why he allowed these tactics, Bogdan told the Niner Times the focus was the “safe, humane treatment of the detainees” and the decision to force-feed was a “medical protocol” that “wasn’t under his purview.” No inmate’s weight had fallen below 100 pounds during the strike, a Navy officer in charge of prison camp health facilities told the Miami Herald under the condition of anonymity.
But according to Bogdan’s declaration from a lawsuit challenging the legality of the force-feeding, he did advise on the decision to allow “compliant” detainees to sit in a reclining chair and “watch television or play video games while being enterally fed.” The strikers were strapped to a chair with their feet shackled, reported VICE News.
On Apr. 13, 2013, dozens of specially-trained U.S. soldiers raided the facility’s communal compound and put 65 defiant detainees in single-cell lockdown at the command of Bogdan, who monitored the event by video screen and radio. The guards fired rubber pellets and five detainees were injured. Bogdan told reporters with the Huffington Post, “We hit the point where I thought we were accepting too much risk, and I felt it was time to take action.”
According to the Huffington Post, the night after the raid, a detainee attempted suicide by strangulation. Another detainee had attempted the same the night before.
Attorney David Remes wrote in the Guardian that “[Bogdan] appears to view the hunger strike as an insurrection, not a protest, and is using every trick in the book, however brutal and cruel, to put it down. Bogdan has eliminated communal living, moving almost all detainees into isolation cells. His guards have confiscated family letters and pictures and legal materials, and even toothbrushes, toothpaste and towels. The guards prevent the men from sleeping by keeping bright lights shining all night and removing the men’s eye-shades. My clients report to me that guards also deliberately make enough noise to keep the detainees awake all night and they are chilling the detainees by keeping their cells freezing cold.”
In May 2013, Al Jazeera reported that detainees were forced to submit to a “pat down” of their genitals and buttocks before leaving the camp for another facility. The tactic received heavy criticism from the detainees’ attorneys who pointed out it was a form of religious humiliation for the predominantly Muslim inmates. In a June 3 declaration, Bogdan justified the searches by saying they would prevent additional suicides and cut off the alleged flow of “contraband” into and out of the cells. A lower court struck the policy down, calling it “religiously and culturally abhorrent” and claiming it was a tactic to prevent detainees from meeting with their lawyers during a hunger strike.
When asked about the genital searches, Bogdan told the Niner Times that he “used the standard search procedures that are assigned in army policy and regulation and in the best practices with the Federal Bureau of prisons.” He said it’s a “regular army procedure” that he did not create.
As the flyer alleges, 86 prisoners were cleared for release during Bogdan’s tenure at Gitmo. Bogdan says that release is “not a decision of innocence or guilt.”
In the announcement of Bogdan’s hiring, Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs Elizabeth Hardin said, “John has a track record of leadership providing safety and security in installations and communities around the U.S. and the world. His dedication to service and his mission orientation fit well in higher education.”
Following Bogdan’s controversial administration at Guantanamo, he served as Chief of Force Protection and Homeland Defense Division and later as Chief of Policy for the U.S. Army. Associate vice chancellor is Bogdan’s first civilian job. He said it was a “natural evolution” and a continuation of his background in “training and developing people.” He added that he chose Charlotte specifically because he has family in the area.
“My time in the military was about leading and developing young Americans,” said Bogdan, “and the large percentage of the folks I worked with were roughly the same age group as students in college. I’ve been completely in awe by the initiative and the determination of young Americans, and the opportunity to do more of that work and continue in that environment I saw as a real blessing.”