- The Washington Times - Monday, June 13, 2005

Vice President Dick Cheney yesterday issued a vigorous defense of the administration’s treatment of prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay naval base, brushing aside calls to close the facility.

“Those who are most urgently advocating that we shut down Guantanamo probably don’t agree with our policies anyway,” Mr. Cheney told reporters at the National Press Club.

“These people have been treated far better than they could be expected to have been treated by virtually any other government on the face of the Earth,” he added.

Mr. Cheney’s remarks were part of a coordinated counteroffensive by Republicans in the White House and on Capitol Hill against critics who want to close the prison in Cuba. Rep. Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, held a press conference to display typical meals for prisoners, including oven fried chicken, rice, vegetables, fruit and tea.

“This is what these killers are given every day — courtesy of the American taxpayer,” marveled the California Republican. “The inmates in Guantanamo have never eaten better, they’ve never been treated better, and they’ve never been more comfortable in their lives than in this situation.

“And the idea that somehow we are torturing people in Guantanamo is absolutely not true,” he added, “unless you consider having to eat chicken three times a week real torture.”

White House spokesman Scott McClellan was equally aggressive in defending the prison where the U.S. houses unlawful combatants who were captured on battlefields in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

“The individuals who are at Guantanamo Bay are dangerous terrorists who seek to do harm to the American people,” Mr. McClellan told reporters at the White House. “They’re there for a reason.”

The coordinated defense of Guantanamo comes in the wake of mounting calls by critics to shutter the facility. These include former President Jimmy Carter and Amnesty International Secretary-General Irene Khan, whose description of the facility as a “gulag” was labeled “absurd” by President Bush.

Last week, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat: “We should end up shutting it down, moving those prisoners.”

Sen. Mel Martinez, Florida Republican, said on Friday that Guantanamo has “become an icon for bad stories, and at some point, you wonder the cost-benefit ratio.”

And on Sunday, Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, said the U.S. cannot hold detainees “forever and ever and ever until they die of old age.”

But yesterday, Mr. Cheney emphasized that some of the 200 detainees who have been released have resumed terrorist activity against U.S. interests. He cited two men who returned to Afghanistan and plotted various attacks before being killed by U.S. and Afghan forces.

“If you were to release those 520 that are currently held at Guantanamo that have been deemed to be enemy combatants, we’re putting a lot of bad guys back on the street to do exactly what they started to do in the first place,” Mr. Cheney said.

Mr. Bush and Mr. McClellan have not explicitly refused to the close Guantanamo Bay prison. Instead, they talk about leaving all options open, although Mr. Cheney suggested that closure is not an option.

Contrary to those who want more detainees released, Mr. Hunter said the standards should probably be stricter, given that a dozen released detainees have been found on battlefields once again fighting American troops.

Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the top Democrat on Mr. Hunter’s committee, said it’s too early to call for closing Guantanamo, but said the charges mean that Mr. Hunter should hold congressional hearings to get to the bottom of the situation.

“We need to understand the nature and extent of detainee abuse before reaching any conclusions about whether or not to close the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay,” he said.

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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