- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld fired back at international critics of the detention of terrorists captured in Afghanistan, saying the men are being treated humanely while being interrogated about future planned attacks against Americans.
"Let there be no doubt, the treatment of the detainees in Guantanamo Bay is proper, it's humane, it's appropriate, and it is fully consistent with international conventions," Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon.
"No detainee has been harmed; no detainee has been mistreated in any way. And the numerous articles, statements, questions, allegations and breathless reports on television are undoubtedly by people who are either uninformed, misinformed or poorly informed."
Critics, including members of the British Parliament, have charged that shackling and blindfolding al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners is tantamount to torture.
Meanwhile yesterday, American Taliban John Walker began the journey back to the United States to face charges that he conspired to kill his countrymen. Walker was expected to arrive in the Washington area today.
Much of the controversy over the treatment of the 158 Islamic militants at the U.S. military base in Cuba developed after publication of an official Pentagon photograph showing a group of militants in a holding area. The men were shown kneeling in orange jumpsuits with their hands chained behind their backs.
Yesterday, the European Union and the German government protested the detention of the prisoners. Earlier, the governments of the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark and several nongovernmental humanitarian groups criticized the United States.
In Berlin, the German government issued a statement saying the detainees should be treated as prisoners of war.
"Regarding those under arrest in Guantanamo, we are of the view that, regardless of any later definition of their status, they are to be treated as prisoners of war," said Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.
"That means in accordance with international law and in a humanitarian way, as written in the Geneva Convention."
Yemen wants access to Yemeni prisoners, Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Kurbi said yesterday.
"Yemeni authorities have asked the United States to allow their ambassador in Havana to visit the 17 Yemenis" held at the base, he said, according to the official SABA news agency. President Ali Abdullah Saleh has instructed the envoy to "get in touch with the Yemeni prisoners and inquire about their conditions," Mr. al-Kurbi said.
Mr. Rumsfeld said the detainees have been given warm showers, toiletries, water, clean clothes, blankets and "culturally appropriate meals" Muslims do not eat pork.
The prisoners also have prayer mats and "the right to practice their religion," as well as modern medical treatment, Mr. Rumsfeld said. They also are allowed regular exercise and are kept in cells that are 8 feet square and 71/2 feet high, he said.
The makeshift prison will be replaced with a more permanent facility in the coming months.
"These men are extremely dangerous, particularly when being moved, such as loading or unloading an aircraft, buses, ferries, movements between facilities, movements to and from showers and the like," the defense secretary said. "During such periods, the troops, properly, take extra precautions."
Al Qaeda militants carried out an uprising in Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan that led to the death of CIA officer Johnny "Mike" Spann. In another uprising, al Qaeda members in Pakistan's custody killed a number of Pakistani soldiers.
One of the prisoners in Cuba has been threatening to kill Americans, and another bit one of the U.S. military guards, Mr. Rumsfeld said.
"To stop future terrorist attacks, we have detained these people, and we have and will be questioning them to gather additional intelligence information," he said.
The legal status of the prisoners has not been sorted out by Pentagon lawyers, who believe that granting them official prisoner-of-war status under the Geneva Convention on the Rules of War would falsely elevate the status of the al Qaeda terrorist group to that of a government.
"Whatever the detainees' legal status may ultimately be determined to be, the important fact is that the detainees are being treated humanely," said Mr. Rumsfeld. "They have been, they are being treated humanely today, and they will be in the future."
Mr. Rumsfeld said headlines referring to the prisoners' treatment as torture are "just utter nonsense." He said it was "unfortunate" that the photograph of the kneeling, shackled prisoners was made public.
The photograph was taken in a corridor where prisoners were being prepared for less-restrictive detention in cells after high-security measures during transit from Afghanistan to Cuba, he said.
"I think that a lot of people saw that and said, 'My goodness. They're being forced to kneel,' which is not true," said Mr. Rumsfeld.
Some of the prisoners may end up in the countries of their origin, which Mr. Rumsfeld did not identify.
"We undoubtedly will end up processing some through the criminal justice system," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if we did some through the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and I suspect there will be some military commissions."
"We have come very close to working through some preliminary judgments as to how they might operate," he said.
In Los Angeles, U.S. District Judge Howard Matz said yesterday he had doubts that his court has jurisdiction to hear a petition contending that the U.S. government is holding the detainees illegally.
"I have grave doubts about whether I have jurisdiction," said Judge Matz, who set a deadline of Jan. 31 for the government to file a response in the case brought by clergy, journalism professors and civil rights lawyers, including former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark. They argue that the custody violates the U.S. Constitution and the Geneva Convention.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Axel asked Judge Matz to throw out the petition because none of the detainees resides in California.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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