Tuesday, January 29, 2002

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, center, spoke to reporters Sunday after a visit to Camp X-ray, where al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners are being held, at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Joining Rumsfeld on his tour were Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., right, and Sen. Daniel Inouye.

Conditions at Cuba
base are humane,
Inouye says

The senator disputes that Taliban and
al-Qaida prisoners are being mistreated

By Treena Shapiro

Suspected terrorists being held at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are being treated in a civilized manner, said U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye after visiting the base Sunday.

"I left there fully convinced that we were treating these detainees in the most humane fashion," he said.

Inouye had been planning to visit Guantanamo Bay this week with Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, but they and two other senators were given the opportunity to make the eight-hour trek Sunday with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"I wanted to see what the conditions were like, what the needs were and whether the charges that were being made by the British Parliamentary and others have any validity," he said.

Inouye was referring to complaints about the conditions at the camp and demands from some countries, notably Saudi Arabia, that their citizens be returned for questioning.

Rumsfeld, President Bush and others have determined that the 158 detainees will not be considered prisoners of war, which would guarantee them certain rights under the Geneva Convention.

That is because this is not a traditional war between two countries, with uniforms, flags and ranks, Inouye explained.

This war is against terrorists, he said.

"Who is the president, and who is the head of state?" Inouye asked. "If so, is he communicating with us? If Osama bin Laden is the head of state, he should declare himself. Where is the capital?"

Although not protected by the Geneva Convention, "the treatment the detainees receive by the United States go beyond the requirements of the Convention," Inouye said.

The men are held in individual cells 8 feet square and 10 feet high. The sole piece of furniture is a mattress, about 5 inches thick, covered by sheets and blankets, and "comfortable enough," Inouye said.

"That's the way they live at home," he said.

The open-air cells are separated by a heavy wire mesh, making conversation and even touch possible across neighboring cells.

The detainees are shackled when they leave their cells, but Inouye pointed out that Americans charged with felonies less than murder are also shackled.

"I don't know why people are so concerned that they are shackled," he said.

Inouye calls the security measures appropriate. The guards inside the compound are not armed in case they are overwhelmed by the prisoners, but outside, past two walls topped with barbed wire, armed guards watch for escapees from towers.

As a further precautionary measure, the prisoners had hoods covering their faces as they were brought to Guantanamo Bay. The hoods were removed after they were in their cells.

"If I were in charge, I wouldn't want the prisoners looking around and start mapping out their escape route," he said.

Inouye said he believes most of the men are gaining weight, as the kitchen prepares three regular meals a day according to Islamic and cultural dietary restrictions.

"I assure you they ate better and continue to eat better than what they ate in Afghanistan even in the best conditions," he said. "They are not starving. ... Once a week, they get weighed, and they are not losing weight."

The senator said he cannot see how anyone could complain about the medical treatment the detainees have received. Some suffered from gunshot wounds, some had fractures, and a couple have been isolated because of tuberculosis.

"The hospital is a naval hospital where our men and women go to receive their care," he said. "They were given regular treatment in the hospital. If surgery was necessary, surgery was performed."

Inouye said two Muslim chaplains are available to the detainees at all hours.

"While we were there, the prayer call was issued by the chaplain," Inouye said.

The chaplain led the prayer "from a high tower, singing out a prayer to Allah. They all faced Mecca, bowed and prayed."

None of the delegation spoke with the detainees, "nor did they attempt to speak with us," Inouye said.

"In fact, as far as I know, none of them made eye contact with any of us," he said.

So far, the men have not been interrogated, only treated for wounds and ailments and asked their names, ages and countries of origin, Inouye said.

Once the interrogation is completed, decisions will be made whether to forward the detainees to the military tribunal or release them to their countries of origin.

Inouye said he does not know how long the detainees will be held, but pointed out that Guantanamo Bay "is not a facility for life imprisonment."

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2002 Honolulu Star-Bulletin