Secretary Defends Guantanamo Bay Detention Center
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 14, 2005 The United States can no longer afford the luxury of treating terrorism as a law enforcement problem, and that is why the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is necessary, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said at a press conference at the Pentagon today.
Rumsfeld said the old paradigm of waiting until terrorists struck and then arresting them won't work in an era with weapons of mass destruction. "In this new era, it became clear that prosecuting terrorists after they strike was an inadequate approach, particularly given the lethal threats posed by violent extremists," he said.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the military has apprehended thousands of enemy combatants, with officials determining that several hundred are particularly dangerous or have high intelligence value. These terrorists represent no state and have no territorial or moral boundaries, he said.
"The president decided that they were not entitled for formal prisoner-of-war status under the Geneva Conventions and that they were certainly not criminal defendants in the traditional law enforcement sense," Rumsfeld said.
"The detention facility at Guantanamo Bay was established for the simple reason that the United States needed a safe and secure location to detain and interrogate enemy combatants," he said. "It was the best option available."
DoD established legal processes for the detainees and developed procedures for catering to detainees' religious needs.
"Our goal as a country is to detain as few people as is possible and is safe," Rumsfeld said. The secretary noted the United States would rather return terrorists to their countries of origin "if the country is capable and willing to manage them in an appropriate way."
But some present an intelligence bonanza. U.S. officials say that Mohamed al-Kahtani -- now in Guantanamo -- was supposed to be the "20th hijacker" on Sept. 11. "He has direct ties to al Qaeda's top leadership, including Osama bin Laden," Rumsfeld said.
At Guantanamo, Kahtani and other detainees have provided valuable information. He and others of his ilk have provided insights into terrorist planning, recruiting and logistics. He also provided the identities and detailed information on 20 of bin Laden's bodyguards and information leading to the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the Sept. 11 attacks, Rumsfeld said. Interrogators were also able to glean information that allowed foreign police to detain 22 suspected terrorists plotting attacks earlier this year.
Those in Guantanamo are there for a reason, Rumsfeld said. "The kind of people held at Guantanamo include terrorist trainers, bomb makers, extremist recruiters and financiers, bodyguards of Osama bin Laden, and would-be suicide bombers," he said. "They are not common car thieves. They are believed to be determined killers."
The secretary said that the real problem is not Guantanamo Bay. "The problem is that ... we are in unexplored territory with this unconventional and complex struggle against extremism," he said. "Traditional doctrines covering criminals and military prisoners do not apply well enough.
"As the president has said, we are always looking for ways to improve our procedures," he continued. "And, of course, we have been looking for better suggestions as to how to manage detainees who pose a lethal threat to the civilized world, and we have already implemented dozens of reforms."