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UNC Charlotte Announces Retirement of John Bogdan

Campus safety director garnered controversy for background in Guantanamo

John Bogdan's headshot over a green background
UNC Charlotte announced the retirement of John Bogdan, associate vice chancellor for safety and security, on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of UNC Charlotte/Niner Times)

UNC Charlotte announced Tuesday that Associate Vice Chancellor for Safety and Security John Bogdan, a controversial figure on campus since his hiring in 2018, will retire effective June 30.

Controversy swirled around the retired US Army colonel’s career at UNC Charlotte due to his previous work as commander at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba.

In August 2019, an anonymous flyer circulated on UNC Charlotte’s campus accusing Bogdan of overseeing multiple human rights violations during his time at Guantanamo. 

“In Guantanamo Bay, John Bogdan tortured people — most of whom were cleared for release,” the flyer stated, as reported by the university’s student-run newspaper Niner Times.

It went on to allege that Bogdan used religious humiliation as a strategy to pacify detainees, among other claims. “How could Bogdan possibly be qualified to protect UNCC students, faculty, and staff when all he knows how to do is brutalize his subordinates?” the flyer read.

The university responded by distributing a “Fact Set Regarding the Employment of John Bogdan,” in which former Chancellor Philip Dubois counters the allegations, praising Bogdan’s leadership during the April 30th, 2019 shooting that resulted in the death of two students and calling Bogdan’s past actions “standard military practices.”

Read more: OPINION: A Spectacle of Unity Followed the UNC Charlotte Shooting

In the university’s announcement of Bogdan’s retirement, Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs Rich Amon said Bogdan “has led safety and security on our campus admirably for the past five years, including through some of the most challenging times our University has ever experienced.”

Bogdan’s past came up again this month amid the formation of a student-led Gaza solidarity encampment on campus and the university’s controversial response, raiding and breaking down the camp early on the morning of May 6. 

Protesters led a rally past the Army ROTC building on campus in the hours after the raid. 

“Admin upholds that they maintain a policy of institutional neutrality,” a spokesperson for the group said. “What neutrality exists when the vice chancellor of our safety and security is a war criminal?”

Read more: UNC Charlotte Encampment Raid Stirs Free Speech Debate on Campus

In 2019, faculty, staff, students and community members formed a group called the “Coalition to Remove John Bogdan,” though it became largely inactive during the 2020 pandemic. In December 2023, the movement resumed with the launch of an Instagram page, @removejohnbogdan.

The page accuses Bogdan of breaking Articles 13-16 of the Third Geneva Convention during his oversight at Guantanamo.

Col. John Bogdan, commander of the Joint Detention Group, leads a run at Guantanamo in 2014
Col. John Bogdan, commander of the Joint Detention Group, leads a run at Guantanamo in 2014. (Public domain)

A petition by the coalition urging the university to fire Bogdan claimed that he oversaw new violations of international law relating to prisoners’ rights within weeks of taking charge of the detention camp, a claim backed-up by The Guardian’s Besty Reed, who reported on the issue in 2013, as well as in an exclusive 60 Minutes interview in which Bogdan responded to criticism.

“Protests began when Bogdan began to seize the Quran from prisoners and desecrate it, leading to hunger strikes that resulted in torture, force-feeding via tubes, isolation, sleep deprivation, and even shooting people with rubber bullets,” the petition says.

In the caption of a post about Bogdan’s retirement on Tuesday, the group questioned whether his leaving was a victory.

“For the immediate safety of black and brown students on campus, yes – there is no longer this implicit threat looming over their heads,” the post reads. “However, with the fanfare surrounding this peaceful retirement, talks of his ‘admirable service’, the length of his stay at UNCC, and the University’s rhetoric during the Palestine Solidarity Encampment, it is hard to take this as a victory.”

The post goes on to decry the fact that there will be no apology from the school for hiring Bogdan and laundering his image because no one in the administration has ever thought it was a bad idea in the first place. 

“While one struggle ends, another arises from the same contradiction,” the post continues. “The students and faculty of UNC Charlotte continue to be brave and hold strong convictions, as they always have, in the face of a repressive, hostile environment. I can only hope we made Bogdan’s time in North Carolina just a little bit more miserable.” 

Christopher Gonyar, director of emergency management, will assume the duties of interim associate vice chancellor effective July 1, according to the university.


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5 Comments

  1. The hiring of Bogdan, and his 5+ year tenure, should be a source of eternal embarrassment and shame for my university. This is from a 10-page memo that 37 of us professors authored & presented to the Administration in 2020. (It was dismissed w/o consideration, despite several pages of documentation):

    “We draw attention to a number of actions and decisions taken by Bogdan that are extensively documented by reputable press outlets, by the civilian and military legal counsel for Guantanamo detainees, and by John Bogdan himself. These actions and policies include disrespect for prisoners’ religious and personal materials, force feeding of hunger strikers, placing hunger strikers in solitary confinement, subjecting prisoners to wide temperature variations, the enforcement of degrading genital searches, and violations of religious rights by disrupting prayer times/access, discouraging group prayer, and limiting access to religious materials. [Letter to Secretary of Defense from Department of Defense Office of the Chief Defense Counsel, May 20, 2013. May 23, 2013 Al Jazeera article, which includes the text of the letter.]

    These actions clearly violate human decency and the spirit of the Third Geneva Convention and other protocols for the treatment of prisoners. Violating the spirit of our own national laws, Colonel Bogdan sought to discourage prisoners’ rights to legal access by reducing the hours lawyers could meet with prisoners, by denying their access by phone, by mandating long periods of prior notice for visits, and by conducting degrading bodily searches before and after each visit that prisoners held with their lawyers. In the case of audio monitoring, listening devices were disguised as fire alarms, thus violating attorney-client privileges of confidentiality. Mr. Bogdan’s claims of ignorance of these tactics that were employed under his watch lacks credibility. Taken together, these actions seemed intent on undermining detainees’ access to, and faith in, legal counsel. [Charlie Savage, “Court Allows Groin Searches,” The New York Times, August 1, 2014.]

    As UNC Charlotte faculty, we view with particular alarm the May 2013 letter from nineteen military lawyers to the Secretary of Defense questioning the fitness of Bogdan’s command on a number of issues. They questioned his “bias, prejudice, and proper temperament,” arguing that Bogdan’s actions dehumanized their clients and violated their dignity.

    During Bogdan’s command, he ordered a raid on prisoners’ cells that led directly to the 2013 hunger strike. Despite all the pressures to refrain from any form of protest, roughly two-thirds of the prisoners (106 out of 166) participated in the strike, and 45 individuals were force-fed through a painful process with nasogastric tubing, a form of torture that is explicitly rejected in most of the world.

    It should be added that the large majority of these men were “cleared for release” and the others “must be considered to be innocent until proven guilty by a competent court.” According to Human Rights Watch, of the 780 known detainees held at Guantanamo Bay since September 11, 2001, 731 were released without charges — a release rate of 93.7%.

    Only eight of the 780 were convicted in military commissions after trials or plea bargains, but of these eight, three convictions were overturned and three others were partially invalidated. Only seven detainees of the 41 still at Guantanamo face any formal charges.” This is important to keep in mind when considering the statements that have been made in defense of Bogdan’s hiring. In a 2013 interview with Lesley Stahl for “60 minutes” Bogdan misleadingly claimed, painting with the broadest brush, that “these men are enemies to us.”

    In response to emails, UNCC administrators have written that Bogdan was “robustly vetted.” But evidence is to the contrary. Were any experts in international law consulted, in particular as relates to the treatment of prisoners? If not, why not? The job ad stipulated: “Experience in higher education or a related field is also required.” Why was Colonel Bogdan hired despite lacking this experience?

    Finally, how could this firm be unaware of the potential disrepute that hiring someone like Bogdan would bring to our university? Did they not conduct a simple google search as part of determining his suitability for the position?”….

  2. The entire 10-page memo can be found here (toward the top of the page) along with two highly embarrassing docs from the university, vigorously defending Bogdan and defending and apparently advocating the use of torture on innocent Afghan and Pakistani men: https://uncc-aaup.org/

  3. A long page memo about Bogdan’s misdeeds & violations of int’l law can be found here (toward the top of the page: https://uncc-aaup.org/ ) along with two highly embarrassing docs from the university, vigorously defending Bogdan and apparently advocating the use of torture on innocent Afghan and Pakistani men.

  4. The university really disgraced itself when it hired this guy, who ran a torture camp for 2 years and was involved in other dubious, secretive missions in Iraq and elsewhere. And worse yet, they unjustly praised him for somehow helping out during the tragedy (mass shooting) of April 30, 2019 … which is completely untrue. The shooting ended fairly quickly, because of the heroic actions of one student in particular, but not because of the campus police or Bogdan. It’s been completely dishonest and cynical, the way the university has somehow turned Bogdan — a torturer — into a hero. Check out any memoir by a Gitmo survivor (such as “Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantanamo”) and you’ll see that Bogdan was actually worse (emphasis) than most other commanders of the infamous torture camp.

  5. Someone needs to look into his history running “clandestine” sites in Iraq and Somalia. A real sicko!

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