Lawmakers defend 'world-class' Guantánamo

The United States military official tasked with running the Guantánamo Bay detention camp on Wednesday rejected calls by critics to close the facility, saying it continues to yield vital “actionable intelligence” in the US-led war on terror.

“Every week, we learn something that assists in piecing together the strategic mosaic of international terrorism,” Brigadier General Jay Hood said in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee.

“Information our detainees have provided has been instrumental in learning how terrorist organisations recruit, train, launder money and plan operations,” said Hood, who has been in charge of running the facility for the past year.

He added that the more than 500 detainees held at Guantánamo continue to pose a risk to Americans and US interests around the world and rejected recent allegations that prisoners have been abused at Guantánamo, saying they enjoy excellent care.

“Every detainee has clothing, shelter and basic hygiene items. They have the opportunity to exercise and their medical and dental care is superb,” Hood said.

“We ensure that detainees can practice their faith and we are respectful of their religion,” he said.

Another military witness brushed aside allegations that guards at the facility have mistreated the Qur’an.

“The rule of thumb for the guards is that you will not touch the Qur’an, and that’s the bottom line. If there’s an instance where a guard need to handle a Qur’an ...
a guard will don a cream-colored latex glove, will secure the Koran in two hands,” said Command Sergeant Major Anthony Mendez.

And Hood added that far from torturing prisoners, ice cream and candy bars are sometimes used to induce them to give up information, as “part of a rapport-building effort on the part of interrogators”.

“My reading and understanding of facilities of this nature in modern history [is] there have been no other in which we’ve made the sort of efforts that have been made at Guantánamo Bay,” the commander said.

Opposition Democrats agreed that their visit seemed to indicate that things are functioning smoothly at the facility, but decried the absence of witnesses not belonging to the US armed forces.

“I think we should hear from people that are dealing with detainees there—not just from our side of the fence and the wire, so to speak, but also people that are representing detainees,” Representative Ellen Tauscher said.

The detention facility has become the focus of passionate debate in recent weeks, following allegations that US forces abused those held in an overzealous effort to prevent potential attacks against the United States like those of September 11, 2001.

The United States currently holds about 520 suspected al-Qaeda members at Guantánamo from about 40 different countries.

Some US lawmakers want the site closed, and others have called for an independent commission to investigate abuses, which President George Bush, and top House Republicans, have rejected.

“We saw a world-class detention facility where detainees representing a threat to our national security are well-fed, given access to top-notch medical facilities and provided an opportunity to obtain legal representation,” said House Armed Service Committee chairperson Duncan Hunter, just days after he and 16 other UA lawmakers returned from Guantanamo for a firsthand look at the much-criticised facility.

“Guantánamo will be kept open,” Hunter said, adding: “The facility is keeping known terrorists off the battlefield while providing us with valuable intelligence.”

But the committee’s top Democrat, Ike Skelton, said the future of the facility should still be reviewed, if only to combat “those who would recruit terrorists to fight against us and by people throughout the Muslim world”, he said.

“We must not provide this recruiting tool for those who would fight us. This means credible, independent investigations of any allegations,” Skelton said. - Sapa-AFP

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