- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 22, 2002

A British government fact-finding mission had uncovered "no sign of any mistreatment" of three nationals held at the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base for fighters captured in Afghanistan, a spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said yesterday.
But the international clash over the legal status and treatment of some 158 captives suspected of being with the Taliban and the al Qaeda terrorist network held at the compound in Cuba showed few signs of abating, with Mr. Blair facing heavy press criticism and prominent European officials criticizing the U.S. decision not to treat the detainees as formal prisoners of war.
A Los Angeles federal judge has scheduled a hearing this morning on a petition filed by a group of clergy, civil rights leaders and law professors arguing that the treatment of the Guantanamo detainees violates both the Constitution and the 1949 Geneva Convention on the laws of war.
The release of photos of some captives fueled a second dispute, with the Swiss-based International Committee of the Red Cross saying publication of the photos violated the prisoners' rights under the Geneva Convention.
Mr. Blair, the Bush administration's most steadfast ally in the global terrorism war, has been on the defensive at home over conditions at "Camp X-ray," as the Guantanamo facility has been dubbed.
Mr. Blair did not comment directly, but a spokesman for the prime minister said the British nationals interviewed by a government team during the weekend "had no complaints about their treatment."
"They were in good physical health, and there was no sign of any mistreatment," the spokesman told reporters in London, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "There were no gags, no goggles, no earmuffs, no shackles while the detainees are in their cells. They only wear shackles and only shackles when they are outside their cells.
"In terms of facilities, nobody is pretending, obviously, they are luxurious, but they are basic and are fit for the requirements of the detainees," the spokesman said.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has rejected charges that the conditions at the camp are inhumane, saying the complaints were coming from parties with no direct knowledge of the situation.
But British newspapers splashed Pentagon photos of the orange jumpsuit-clad prisoners at Camp X-ray, handcuffed and kneeling, across their front pages during the weekend, and many in the British media and Parliament stepped up their criticism yesterday.
"Tortured" read the headline for the tabloid Sunday Mail, which has strongly supported the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan, writing in its story that the prisoners were being "shackled like wild animals."
U.S. Marine Brig. Gen. Michael Lehnert told reporters at Guantanamo yesterday that the photos simply showed the security measures taken as the prisoners arrived at the camp and was not representative of their daily treatment.
"It's a security precaution primarily to keep them from moving around," the general said.
Menzies Campbell, foreign affairs spokesman for the centrist Liberal Democrats, said in a television interview yesterday that the images captured in the photos risked "undercutting the moral high ground" held by the United States as the victim of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"You only have to ask yourself the question, 'What sort of effect will these pictures have in capitals like Cairo or Amman, Jordan?'" Mr. Campbell said.
The Red Cross has had a four-member team at the camp reviewing conditions since late last week, talking to the inmates and meeting privately with U.S. military officials about their findings.
"I would consider [the photos] incompatible with the Geneva Convention," Red Cross spokesman Darcy Christen said yesterday.
But the U.S. government has consistently maintained that the detainees are "illegal combatants" who do not qualify as prisoners of war and are not entitled to the full protections of the Geneva Convention.
The U.S. legal position came under attack again yesterday.
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana told the Spanish network TVE that the EU believed that "the Geneva Convention should apply to all people arrested in such circumstances."
Dutch Foreign Minister Jozias van Aartsen also criticized the U.S. unilateral determination that none of the detainees was a prisoner of war. "In the fight [against terrorism], we need to uphold our norms and values. That applies to prisoners, too," Mr. van Aartsen said.
Iran's English-language Tehran Times contrasted the treatment of the Guantanamo detainees with the extensive legal protections given by the U.S. government to John Walker, the young Californian captured while fighting alongside the Taliban late last year.
Not all of the international reaction has been negative.
Narodnoye Slovo, the official newspaper in Uzbekistan, said the inmates at Camp X-ray were "terrorists or simply barbarians and vandals who posed a challenge to the whole world."
The paper concluded: "One should not, therefore, treat them more humanely or provide better conditions for them than the conditions they currently have at Guantanamo."
*This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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