Detainee treatment gets more scrutiny

Wednesday, January 23, 2002

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba -- The treatment of detained terrorist suspects from the Afghanistan war is getting more scrutiny from the international community.

A federal judge in Los Angeles, meanwhile, delayed ruling on a petition that alleges the prisoners are being held in violation of the Geneva Conventions and U.S. Constitution.

U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz said he had "grave doubts" about his jurisdiction and gave federal prosecutors until Jan. 31 to file papers calling for dismissal of the petition on jurisdictional grounds. The judge said he will hold another hearing Feb. 14. Federal attorneys said they would file for dismissal of the case.

The court challenge of the detention of al-Qaida suspects at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base demanded that the U.S. government bring the suspects before a court and define the charges against them. A coalition that includes former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and other prominent civil rights advocates brought the suit.

The European Union and Germany on Tuesday joined a chorus of protests from the Netherlands, British legislators, Amnesty International and the International Committee of the Red Cross demanding that the detainees be given prisoner-of-war status subject to the Geneva Conventions.

Sweden called Monday for fair treatment for a Swedish captive. Denmark said one of its citizens was also among the prisoners detained by the United States -- though it did not specify whether he was being held in Afghanistan or Cuba -- and said all prisoners should be treated with respect.

Red Cross visits

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday the United States is treating the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay "humanely," and in accordance with Geneva Conventions.

"No detainee has been harmed. No detainee has been mistreated in any way," the defense secretary said in Washington.

The detainees are receiving "warm showers, toiletries, water, clean clothes, blankets, regular, culturally appropriate meals, prayer mats, and the right to practice their religions," in addition to medical care, writing materials and visits from the International Red Cross, Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld said critics were not taking into account the danger detainees pose to military guards. He said that one detainee at Guantanamo has threatened to kill Americans, and another has bitten a U.S. military guard.

The West risks losing support in the fight against terrorism if it mistreats the prisoners or subjects them to the death penalty, said EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten.

"That would be a way of losing international support and losing the moral high ground," Patten said. He urged a show of "decency and generosity of spirit to the vanquished, even if they are pretty dangerous."

Rumsfeld said the United States has not decided if the detainees should be treated as prisoners of war, and for now calls them battlefield detainees. He said the Geneva Conventions call for so-called "unlawful combatants" to be treated humanely, and the United States military is treating them humanely.

Under the Geneva Conventions, POWs would have to be tried by the same courts and procedures as American soldiers, not by military tribunals.

'Calm, serene situation'

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Tuesday that the U.S. military has implemented some recommendations from its team in Guatanamo. But Urs Boegli, the agency's senior representative from Washington, D.C., declined to say what those were.

Boegli said his team had interviewed 20 detainees on a one-to-one basis "in a calm, serene situation." They gave them cigarettes to smoke and the inmates gave them written messages to send home, he said.

"I'm satisfied with the access, with the cooperation from authorities down to the guards in the camp," he said.

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