Skip to Content

2013: Michael Lehnert

Fellow in Residence

Major General Michael Lehnert
Retired Marine CORPS Major General

"Guantanamo: When Public Policy & the Constitution Collide"
Younts Conference Center, Shaw Hall, Furman University
October 27 – November 1, 2013

A crowd of 400 students, faculty, and community members packed into Younts Conference Center to hear Major General Michael Lehnert deliver his address, "Guantanamo: When Public Policy & the Constitution Collide" on October 28, 2013.

In December 2001, then Brigadier General Michael Lehnert was the commanding general in charge of the Joint Task Force assigned with preparing and operating the detention facilities for the soon-to-arrive prisoners from the war in Afghanistan.  As commander, he was faced with ethical decision making as he responded to vague directives from the Bush Administration.  Below is an excerpt from his speech:

Of all my initial guidance from superiors, perhaps the most disturbing was the decision by the Administration that the detainees would be afforded none of the protections of the Geneva Conventions. I thought that the Geneva Convention’s stricture to treat detainees humanely until they had been tried by an Article V Tribunal made sense. My personal decision was to run the facility in accordance with the Geneva Convention wherever possible. Although some of the people in the facility could be the ‘worst of the worst,’ that didn’t absolve us from the responsibility to treat them humanely. 

Highlights of his visit to Furman

  • General Lehnert was on campus from October 27 through November 1.  In addition to giving a public address, he met with students, faculty, and community members in a variety of venues and forums.
  • Forum with Greenville business and sustainability community on “Green Economics” at Furman’s Upcountry History Museum
  • Dinner and discussion on ethical leadership with Hollingsworth and Townes Scholars
  • Forum with students on “Torture: Is it ever Justified?” hosted by Erik Anderson, professor of philosophy
  • Breakfasts and lunches with members of the Riley Institute Advance Team
  • Discussions on the Iraq War and current events with OLLI classes
  • Lectures on ethical leadership with the Army ROTC cadets
  • Classes on American Foreign Policy, Civil Rights and the U.S. Constitution, and the Politics of Good and Evil

About Major General Lehnert

Mike Lehnert was commissioned in 1973 as a combat engineer and participated in combat operations in Panama, Kuwait, and Iraq. In 2003 he led 5,000 Marines and sailors during the initial invasion of Iraq in support of the 70,000 Marines who formed the I Marine Expeditionary Force. During his 37 years of active duty, he held 13 separate commands from platoon commander to joint task force commander. He was the chief of staff joint task force Panama charged with overseeing the turnover of the Panama Canal, joint task group commander in Guantanamo Bay Cuba during the Cuban migrant crisis, and commander joint task force 160 to build and run detention facilities for Al Qaida and Taliban terrorists. He commanded the marine logistics group during Operation Iraqi Freedom. His last assignment on active duty was regional commander for the seven Marine bases west of the Mississippi.

He was the subject of Karen Greenberg's book, The Least Worst Place, used in many military and law schools as a study in ethical decision making. In 2010, the National Conflict Resolution Center honored him as their 2010 National Peacekeeper Award recipient. Lehnert serves as vice chairman of the board for the Student Veterans of America (SVA). SVA is a national veterans’ organization including over 800 active chapters throughout all 50 states and in three countries. It was formed in 2008 to ensure that student veterans achieve their educational goals in universities and achieve their academic potential.

He has been recognized by numerous environmental groups including the Sierra Club for his work recovering endangered species while still on active duty. Today he serves on the eleven person board of the Endangered Species Coalition. The Endangered Species Coalition is a national network of over 440 conservation, scientific, education, religious, sporting, outdoor recreation, and business and community organizations working to protect our nation’s disappearing wildlife and last remaining wild places.


Ethical decision making in complex and morally bruising environments: the Guantanamo case study; “creating coalitions among unlikely allies or how government and environmentalists can work together”; logistics and supply chain management: creating an international supply chain in conflict; and what’s missing in our schools of international supply chain studies?

Press Coverage

Greenville Journal