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Radio Interview with Deputy Assistant Secretary Stimson on "Hot Talk with Scott Hennen," WDAY, ND

Presenters: Deputy Assistant Secretary Charles Stimson, Office of Detainee Affairs
June 22, 2006 10:45 AM EDT

      MR. HENNEN:  Well, right now I want to set the record straight on Guantanamo Bay.  I'm about full to the brim on all the distortions in the media that our out there.  It's even come out in the president's trip to Europe right now - somebody yesterday suggesting that power and morality should go hand in hand, as to suggest somehow it is not at Gitmo Bay.

      To help us get the facts on this and get some things that have not been in the media out there, "Cully" STIMSON joins us -- he's deputy assistant secretary of Defense in the Office of Detainee Affairs - today from the Pentagon on WDAY.  

      Cully, how are you?

      MR. STIMSON:  Scott, I'm great.  How are things on the prairie?

      MR. HENNEN:  They are just beautiful today.  I've got a nice summer day here.

      MR. STIMSON:  Well, that sounds great.  I wish you could send some nice weather our way.

      MR. HENNEN:  Yeah, well, we actually need a little rain, but other than that - you know, you've got to complain a little.  So we could use a little rain for our farmers, but other than that, we don't have the hot, sticky, you know, D.C. kind of weather.  So we're doing okay.

      MR. STIMSON:  Yep.

      MR. HENNEN:  Listen, what's the current status of Guantanamo Bay?  It seems as though the hue and cry has said some people worried more about terrorists and whether or not they get their rice pilaf on time than they do about the heinous acts that they're doing and would be doing if they weren't contained.

      Can you tell me where we're at with Gitmo right now?

      MR. STIMSON:  I'd be happy to, Scott.  And I was glad you used the word power and morality in the same sentence, because we provide safe, secure and humane facilities for those terrorists we have in Guantanamo.  We have about 460 of them right now.  

      Make no mistake about it:  these are our enemy.  And as in past wars, World War II, World War I, any country - the United States, any European country - we're entitled to hold our enemy throughout the duration of the conflict.  We're doing that.  The Guard force down there are doing a superb job monitoring, guarding, feeding, providing opportunities for these detainees.

      I mean, we have sent, Scott, over 1,000 media journalists down there from 400 different outlets.  We've sent 145 members of our Congress, 174 of their staffers.  I mean, when I talk about the media going down there, Scott, I'm not talking about, you know, just Fox News or folks who are here in the United States.  I'm talking about Al-Jazeera.  I'm talking about the BBC.  I'm talking Sweden and Spain and Germany and Italy and France, Lebanese, Korean, Middle East News -- I mean Chinese.  And you don't hear the hue and cry from them after they come back, because they see what it's really like down there.

      MR. HENNEN:  My understanding also is that the International Community (sic/Committee) of the Red Cross literally can go to any detainee any time anywhere, right?

      MR. STIMSON:  They're down there right now.  And they have a virtual constant presence down there.  They go down for long stretches of time, sometimes up to six weeks.  They - under the Geneva Convention, they're the sole internationally recognized body who can talk to detainees.  They do that.  We listen to their recommendations.  They're confidential in nature, so I can't go into them.  But yes,  they're down there virtually all of the time.

      MR. HENNEN:  So why are we apologizing for anything in Guantanamo Bay?  Why are we suggesting that it should be closed or these detainees ought to be moved?

      MR. STIMSON:  I mean, that's a great question.  And we've got to be careful here, because - and I know you listen to your callers, and when your callers call in after this make sure that they don't mix two important concepts.  

      One concept, Scott, is the concept of criminal law. And that includes charges, court, defense lawyers, trials, convictions.  That happens in your state and every one of our wonderful states in this country.  And when somebody is convicted they go to jail and they serve their time because they're being punished.

      During a time of war, people are detained.  They're taken off the battlefield so they won't kill again.  And we don't want to be in the position, as a country - or any country, for that matter, doesn't want to be in the position where we have to automatically try or release people who are our enemy.  I mean, throughout history, and in the Geneva Convention, you're entitled as a country to detain your enemy and that's what we're doing.

      So I don't think we should be going for the head fake that we need to close our detention facilities just because of international pressure.  I mean, the president said he wants to close Guantanamo.  That's obviously aspirational, and there may come a point where he'll come out and say that.  But the point is, we are detaining our enemy.  We are preventing them from coming back and killing other Americans or other people and that's the business we're in.

      MR. HENNEN:  Right now there are no plans to close Gitmo?

      MR. STIMSON:  All I know is that we are - we haven't sent anyone to Gitmo since 2004, September.  And since then, the number has been declining because we're transferring a number of people back to countries, countries who we hope will take responsibility for the terrorists that we have in Guantanamo.  But no, I know of no plan to close Gitmo at this point.  But of course, the president could come out and say that.  It's his prerogative to do that.

      MR. HENNEN:  But that doesn't mean that we're releasing these criminals.  It means they go elsewhere and we have the confidence, as the United States of America, that these people aren't going to be free to do us harm again.

      MR. STIMSON:  They're not criminals.  They're terrorists.  And that's the distinction that I'm trying to get across.  And we can't meld those two concepts, because as soon as you say criminal, then somebody says, well, what about a trial?  We don't have to try these people.

      MR. HENNEN:  I'm embarrassed to say we have a senator from our state that actually has argued that these terrorists ought to lawyer-up better and we ought to provide more for them.

      MR. STIMSON:  Well, let me - I mean, here's what I would say to that senator, and I'm sure you could do it with your voice there in the prairie:  I mean, which American general would have organized criminal trials for the 10 million German soldiers we captured during World War II before Berlin's unconditional surrender?  None. 

      MR. HENNEN:  Yeah.

      MR. STIMSON:  None.

      MR. HENNEN:  Zippo.

      MR. STIMSON:  And we don't want to be in a position - I mean, watch what you ask for, because what if country X somewhere else in Europe detains - gets attacked and is at war and detains 10,000 people who are their enemy.  Does that country want to be in a position where they automatically have to give them a slick criminal defense attorney and try them or immediately let them free?

      MR. HENNEN:  And by the way, lest anybody think these terrorists are lily white, some that have been released have - we've caught again on the battlefield, correct?

      MR. STIMSON:  Worse than that.  At least 15 have come back to take up arms against our people and tried to kill us.  

      MR. HENNEN:  So you get a sense of what we're dealing with here.  So if there are any transfers, number one, we're confident that where they're going is secure?  And number two, if there's releases, we're confident that it's not going to be somebody we're going to find later in a similar situation?  Is that what you're telling me?

      MR. STIMSON:  No, I'm not.  There's no such thing as a no-risk transfer, but we engage in very robust discussions with countries and we hope that they live up to the assurances that they provide us with respect to how they're going to mitigate the threat once these folks are returned to their countries.

      So no, there's no - in wartime, there's no such thing as a perfect solution.

      MR. HENNEN:  And lastly, there have been some news recently of some suicides among detainees, terrorists, at Gitmo.  What do we know about what happened there?

      MR. STIMSON:  Well, all I can tell you at this point is that the investigation is very thorough.  It's ongoing.  And when the investigation is complete, you can bet your bottom dollar that we will roll out whatever it is that we find out during the investigation.  

      MR. HENNEN:  Unlike any of our enemies, I might add.

      Cully, I appreciate the update today very much.  And I think it's important to get these facts out into the people's hands, because unfortunately, they're far too often not in the mainstream media reporting on what's happening in Guantanamo Bay, and I think most importantly today a great reminder and refresher again that these aren't criminals; these are terrorists.

      Cully STIMSON, deputy assistant secretary of Defense in the Office of Detainee Affairs at the Pentagon, our guest today on "Hot Talk."  

      Thank you, Cully.  We appreciate it.

      MR. STIMSON:  Thanks, Scott.

      MR. HENNEN:  Take care.


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