Wednesday, January 30, 2002

After spending months in frigid Afghanistan caves subsisting on Allah knows what, the 158 detainees the

United States is holding in tropical Guantanamo Bay must think they’ve died and gone to heaven.

Well, heaven without the 72 virgins.

The detainees should look at the balmy Camp X-Ray replete with running water, three square meals a day and modern medical care as a sort of Taliban version of Club Med. Call it Club Gitmo.

Yet, some Americans and Brits have been hollering about the U.S. treatment of these tough guys. British newspaper headlines have screamed about U.S. “Torture” and “Monstrous Inhumanity,” while stories say prisoners are treated “like wild beasts” in “cages.” Amnesty International issued a press release accusing the United States of “keeping prisoners incommunicado, (using) sensory deprivation, the use of unnecessary restraint and the humiliation of people through tactics such as shaving them … in an effort to ‘break’ the spirit of individuals ahead of interrogation.”

It should be noted that much of the uproar is over photographs of the detainees taken as they were being transported from airplanes to their cells. The military wisely shackles prisoners during transport: That’s when it’s easiest for violent people to hurt others.

Also, a British Foreign Ministry team, which spent three days at Club Gitmo, reported that three British citizens being held there had “no complaints about their treatment.”

As The Washington Post reported, Foreign Office Parliamentary Secretary Ben Bradshaw also explained that there were “no gags, no goggles, no earmuffs and no shackles while [the prisoners] are in their cells.”

Still, some people just have to bash the United States. And they apparently don’t care if the criticism makes them look clueless as to what really is inhumane. Take the sensory deprivation charge. Does Amnesty International think wearing a hood on an airplane is sensory deprivation, instead of a security measure? Isn’t the Taliban code all about sensory deprivation?

As for the “unnecessary restraint,” one detainee has announced he wants to kill an American before he leaves Cuba and another detainee bit a guard, according to Pentagon spokesman Capt. Riccoh Player. So make that “necessary restraint.”

I was embarrassed by some of the press corps’ comments during last Tuesday’s Pentagon briefing. Talk about clueless. First, there’s the reporter who likened living in the tropics without air conditioning to “torture.”

Then there’s the reporter who asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld if American Taliban John Walker will be treated the same as the detainees. “Will he be put in an 8-by-8-foot cell that has no walls but only a roof?” was the follow-up question.

I would guess that’s one journalist who has never been to a prison.

“In an 8-by-8-foot space, [on some ships] we would cram half a dozen sailors,” was one U.S. official’s reaction.

Then there’s the status of the detainees. Some Brits and Amnesty International want them to be officially classified as POWs. The detainee status, however, gives the U.S. military the leeway to interrogate these former operatives about any future terrorist attacks.

White House spokesman Ken Lisaius rightly noted of the Club Gitmo guests that, “for the most part, they’re members of al Qaeda, and if they were free, they’d engage in murder once again.”

You could understand the outrage if the U.S. military were torturing or otherwise mistreating the detainees. Instead, Amnesty International and its comrades are outraged that the military is treating al Qaeda captives like prisoners. Oh, the horror.

You get the feeling that if Rummy booked these tough guys into a Motel 6, they would complain there’s no room service.

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