- The Washington Times - Friday, January 18, 2002

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday set down four options for disposing of what is likely to be hundreds of pro-Taliban guerrillas held in Cuba, and none of the possibilities includes setting them free.
Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon that the final destination of al Qaeda terrorists and Taliban fighters will be decided only after the United States has exhausted the interrogation process at the U.S. Naval Base on Guantanamo Bay.
As of yesterday, the military had shipped 110 detainees to Cuba and is holding about 370 in Afghanistan.
Mr. Rumsfeld said prisoners would either be tried in a U.S. military tribunal or civil court, transferred to their country of nationality for prosecution or kept at Guantanamo indefinitely.
"It's conceivable some could be kept in detention for a period while additional intelligence information is gathered," he said. "Or if they simply are dangerous they may just be kept in detention for a period."
Calling them "dangerous," the defense chief has defended vigorously the detainees' living conditions against charges from human rights groups.
But yesterday, a new voice was added to those questioning security procedures, and it came from a staunch ally Britain.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that if the United States is to maintain the "moral ascendancy," it must treat captives humanely.
The mix of Taliban fighters and members of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda army are being kept in tight, 6-foot-by-8-foot spaces at the naval base. The cells have a roof, but only a chain-link wall. The prisoners are allowed showers, prayer time, exercise and culturally sensitive meals, the Pentagon says.
It classifies them as "battlefield detainees," not as prisoners of war, so as not to afford them all the rights of the Geneva Convention.
Pentagon officials say they consider the hard-bitten terrorists as criminals, not foreign troops. They point out that some are willing to commit suicide to take American lives, as their comrades-in-arms have. Also, some in Cuba have vowed to kill their American captors before leaving.
"There are a number down in Guantanamo Bay who, every time anyone walks by, threaten to kill Americans the first chance they get," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "These are quite dangerous people. They may just be kept in detention for a period."
"The issue as to what happens to those people will follow the interrogations and the process of getting as much information out of them as we can, so that we can stop other terrorist attacks."
The Pentagon to date has declined to identify any of the detainees, except American Taliban member John Walker. But the Associated Press reported yesterday that one of those held in Cuba is Mullah Fazel Mazloom, the Taliban army chief of staff.
Mullah Mazloom surrendered to anti-Taliban forces early in the war during the battle for Kunduz in northern Afghanistan.
Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said yesterday that Defense Department General Counsel William J. Haynes II visited the Cuba base Tuesday alongside other military attorneys.
Said Mrs. Clarke: "We are charting completely new territory here. When was the last time the U.S. had detainees of any kind? These are particularly different kinds of detainees. There are a lot of procedures, a lot of policies that they are working through."
The administration is giving U.S. troops new detention duties outside Afghanistan and Cuba. The troops will take custody of six Arabs ordered released yesterday by a Bosnian court after they were detained on suspicion of involvement in terrorism.
Mr. Straw's comments in Britain came just days after British Prime Minister Tony Blair endorsed the Bush administration's handling of members of al Qaeda, the group the United States blames for the September 11 attacks on America.
Mr. Straw seemed to be firing a warning over the Atlantic.
Reuters quoted him as saying, "I think it is very important for these people to be held according to the principles of international law. Whatever they are alleged to have done, they need to be treated properly because that's the way in which one can maintain the moral ascendancy here, and the reverse is obviously true."
Not all detainees in Afghanistan will come to Cuba. The Pentagon plans to send 90 to Pakistan, where authorities initially had detained them.


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