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Pressure to close Guantánamo grows

Washington Post & Associated Press | June 13, 2005

WASHINGTON — Vice President Dick Cheney said yesterday that the administration has no plans to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as some prominent Democrats have recommended, but other Republicans said that reports of mistreatment of prisoners there have made the prison a growing global liability.

Additional information about aggressive interrogation tactics at Guantánamo surfaced yesterday, which could heighten the debate.

In remarks to be broadcast today on Fox News, Cheney said the administration was reviewing its options at the prison "on a continuous basis." But he defended its record, saying, "The important thing here to understand is that the people that are at Guantánamo are bad people."

But Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. said the situation in Guantánamo is one reason why the United States is "losing the image war around the world," and suggested closing the prison could help.

"It's identifiable with, for right or wrong, a part of America that people in the world believe is a power, an empire that pushes people around; we do it our way, we don't live up to our commitments to multilateral institutions," Hagel told CNN's "Late Edition."

He said Defense Department leaders have not taken responsibility for the excesses at the prison, which have included controversial harsh treatment of prisoners and desecration of the Quran.

There are about 540 inmates at Guantánamo, most captured in Afghanistan or otherwise associated with al-Qaida. None of the inmates has been charged, and some have been returned to their countries after it was determined — sometimes years after they were captured — that they did not pose any danger.

The Senate Judiciary Committee plans a hearing Wednesday on the issue of detainees.

"We've actually created a legal black hole there," said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the committee's ranking Democrat, on CBS' "Face the Nation." "We're the country that tells people that we adhere to the rule of law. We want other countries to adhere to the rule of law. And in Guantánamo, we are not."

Speaking on the same show, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., defended the prison as necessary. "When you catch somebody in Afghanistan or other parts of the world that's engaged in the war of terror, you need to take them off the battlefield," he said. "Prisoners of war are released when the war is over. Well, there's nobody to sign a surrender treaty with here. So you've got a hybrid system."

Still, he said the administration and Congress need to set uniform standards for interrogations and detention.

"Guantánamo Bay is a useful purpose in the war on terror, but under the current regime, under the current circumstances, it's not effectively working," Graham said.

Meanwhile, an article published yesterday by Time magazine documenting the interrogation of one prisoner added to the controversy. The magazine quoted from a log made during the winter of 2002-03 of the treatment of Mohamed al-Qahtani, a Saudi man suspected of having close ties to the Sept. 11 hijackers.

Military-intelligence officials at Guantánamo Bay got permission to use intensive interrogation techniques on two prisoners, including al-Qahtani, deemed to be important al-Qaida figures, the commander of U.S. Southern Command has said.

Time said interrogators used such techniques as dripping water on al-Qahtani's head; strip-searching him and making him stand nude; and depriving him of sleep. At one point, after receiving fluid intravenously because he was dehydrated, al-Qahtani was told to urinate in his pants by interrogators who refused his request to use the bathroom so they could continue with their questioning, according to the account.

The Defense Department said in response that the interrogation of al-Qahtani "was guided by a very detailed plan and conducted by trained professionals motivated by a desire to gain actionable intelligence, to include information that might prevent additional attacks on America."

The Pentagon said al-Qahtani provided valuable information on the logistics of the Sept. 11 attacks and the means by which al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden evaded capture by U.S. forces.

 

 

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