Associated Press | June 16, 2005
By Will Dunham
The Pentagon on Thursday amid mounting criticism of Guantanamo prison invited more members of the U.S. Congress to visit the jail for foreign terrorism suspects and said remarks by some lawmakers showed "a real ignorance of what's really going on."
"We invite more members to go down to Guantanamo and see what's going on, because what's going on down there is not the way it's being described by certain members of Congress," chief Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita told a briefing.
"And the way they are describing it is unfortunate, and in some places I believe those people will regret having made those kind of comments," Di Rita added.
The Pentagon said it holds approximately 520 men at the Guantanamo prison camp, which was opened in January 2002. Many have been held for more than three years. Only four have been charged. Most were detained in Afghanistan.
Di Rita's remarks came a day after a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in which some senators, including Republican Chairman Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said congressional action may be needed to define detainees' legal rights.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (news, bio, voting record) of Vermont, the panel's top Democrat, said the prison at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was "an international embarrassment to our nation, to our ideals, and it remains a festering threat to our security."
Another senior Senate Democrat, Richard Durbin of Illinois, drawing on conditions described in FBI documents, this week compared how U.S. jailers treat Guantanamo prisoners to actions by Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and former Cambodian leader Pol Pot. Some lawmakers and former President Jimmy Carter have called for the prison to be closed.
The White House denounced Durbin's comments.
"To compare the way our military treats detainees with the Soviet gulags, the Nazi concentration camps, and Pol Pot's regime is simply reprehensible," said spokesman Scott McClellan, noting those governments killed millions of people.
"Comments that are being made up on Capitol Hill about what's happening at Guantanamo reflect a real ignorance of what's really going on," added Di Rita.
The United States has classified the detainees as "enemy combatants" and denied them rights accorded to prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.
Human rights activists have criticized the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantanamo. Former detainees have said they were tortured and an FBI memo accused Pentagon personnel at Guantanamo of using "torture techniques." A Justice department official asserted on Wednesday that the U.S. government can legally hold the men "in perpetuity."
The Pentagon has said the United States "operates a safe, humane and professional detention operation at Guantanamo."
Di Rita said 11 U.S. senators, 77 members of the House of Representatives and about 100 congressional staff members already have visited Guantanamo.
In a speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Durbin read from FBI documents describing how U.S. military jailers chained detainees hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor for 18 to 24 hours at a time, with the prisoners urinating and defecating on themselves, placed them in frigid or very hot rooms and played extremely loud rap music.
"If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime, Pol Pot, or others that had no concern for human beings," Durbin said.
The Pentagon is investigating the allegations made in FBI documents.