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U.S. Needs Guantanamo Prison, Rumsfeld Says


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

The Bush administration is standing fast on its detention of enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is the latest to defend the practice against mounting criticism. Democrats and a few Republicans are calling for an inquiry into allegations of prisoner mistreatment. Today, Rumsfeld offered a comprehensive justification for the prison. NPR's Vicky O'Hara reports.

VICKY O'HARA reporting:

Over 500 terrorism suspects still are being held at Guantanamo Bay, which Amnesty International has called `the Gulag of our times.' Critics of the facility say the poor image of the prison is hurting US interests. Some have called for reforms at Guantanamo; others for closure of the facility. When asked about that possibility, the White House said all options remain on the table. But yesterday, Vice President Dick Cheney said Guantanamo will continue to be used to house terrorism suspects. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld underscored that point today in a Pentagon briefing.

Secretary DONALD RUMSFELD (Defense Department): The United States government, let alone the US military, does not want to be in the position of holding suspected terrorists any longer than is absolutely necessary. But as long as there remains a need to keep terrorists from striking again, a facility will continue to be needed.

O'HARA: Rumsfeld defended the operations at Guantanamo, saying that the prison has been subjected to more scrutiny than any military detention facility in history.

Sec. RUMSFELD: There have been nearly 400 separate media visits to Guantanamo Bay by more than 1,000 journalists. Additionally, some 180 congressional representatives have visited the facility. We provide continuous access to the International Committee of the Red Cross whose representatives meet privately with the detainees. Allegations of abuse at Guantanamo, as at any other US military facility, have been thoroughly investigated.

O'HARA: The allegations include charges that prison personnel showed disrespect to the Koran, the most sacred book in the Muslim religion. Although the Pentagon has confirmed a few cases in which personnel mishandled the Koran, Rumsfeld said the US military has gone to unprecedented lengths to respect the detainees' religious sensibilities.

Sec. RUMSFELD: Including the issuance of detailed regulations governing the handling of the Koran and arranging schedules for detainees around the five daily calls for prayer required by the Muslim faith. In fact, at Guantanamo, the military spends more per meal for detainees to meet their religious dietary requirements than it spends per rations for US troops.

O'HARA: Congressman Duncan Hunter, Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, made a similar point today when he displayed Guantanamo-type prison entrees to reporters. `The detainees,' Hunter said, `have never eaten better; they've never been treated better.' But some members of Congress are not convinced of that. Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania plans a Judiciary hearing tomorrow on the treatment of the detainees. Republican Congressman Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania says he also will push for hearings because, he says, `We need to look and see whether any of the allegations being levied are real.' Vicky O'Hara, NPR News, at the Pentagon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Vicky O'Hara
Victoria (Vicky) O'Hara is a diplomatic correspondent for NPR. Her coverage of the State Department and foreign policy issues can be heard on the award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition as well as on NPR's newscasts.
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