Mistreatment Allegations 'Just Plain False'
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 22, 2002 Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today said charges that U.S. military personnel are mistreating Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, "are just plain false."
Rumsfeld, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, said the troops are handling a tough assignment "in a professional and truly outstanding way." He said the military guarding the detainees are doing a difficult and dangerous job. Professional, smart military officers and NCOs lead the effort.
"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," Rumsfeld said. He said no detainee has been harmed or mistreated.
"The numerous articles, statements, questions, allegations and breathless reports on television are undoubtedly by people who are uninformed, misinformed or poorly informed," Rumsfeld said.
The secretary said the detention center at the base is temporary. There was no facility a month ago. The temporary facility will do until a permanent structure is finished in the months ahead. The permanent facility will be prefabricated in the United States and shipped to Guantanamo.
The detainees are in 8-by-8-by-7.5-foot holding units, he said. They have warm showers, toilets, water, clean clothes, blankets, regular and culturally appropriate meals, prayer mats and the right to practice their religion, modern medical attention, exercise, writing materials and visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Rumsfeld said the detainees are dangerous. He said at least one continues to make threats against Americans and another has bitten a guard. Military personnel take special precautions when moving the detainees. The military guards use the same precautions that guards the world over take when moving dangerous individuals. Rumsfeld pointed to the Al Qaeda and Taliban prison riot at Mazar-e Sharif and the terrorists killing Pakistani guards as examples of what happens when guards do not take the proper precautions.
Rumsfeld said the detainees are "unlawful combatants" but that they are entitled to humane treatment under the Geneva Conventions. "Therefore, whatever one may conclude as to how the Geneva Convention may or may not apply, the United States is treating them -- all detainees -- consistently with the principles of the Geneva Convention," he said.
Rumsfeld said DoD would work with lawyers in the Justice Department and the White House to hammer out the status of the detainees. He said the detainees are not being labeled as prisoners of war because they did not engage in warfare according to the precepts of the Geneva Convention -- they hide weapons, do not wear uniforms and try to blur the line between combatant and noncombatant.
A further complication is the status of the Al Qaeda. He said people may debate the idea of what is a country and what isn't in regards to the Taliban, "But I think most people would agree that the Al Qaeda is a terrorist organization -- it's not a country," he said. "To give standing under the Geneva Convention to a terrorist organization is something that the lawyers worry about as a precedent. That's not an unreasonable concern on their part."
Rumsfeld seemed amazed at the "hyperbole" that has been associated with this issue. He said "that if someone looked down from Mars on the United States for the last three days, they would conclude that America is what's wrong with the world. America is not what's wrong with the world. And what's taking place (in Guantanamo) is responsible, it's humane, it's legal, it's proper, it's consistent with the Geneva Conventions, and after a period (of time) that will sink in."