Rumsfeld Defends Servicemembers Accused of Running Gulag
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 1, 2005 Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld defended U.S. military men and women accused of running a "gulag" at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The secretary spoke during a Pentagon press conference today.
"Those privileged to live in free countries are forever in the debt of those who make that freedom possible," Rumsfeld said. "No force in the world has done more to liberate people that they have never met, than the men and women of the United States military. That's why the recent allegation that the U.S. military is running a gulag at Guantanamo Bay is so reprehensible."
Gulags were a series of forced-labor camps in the then-Soviet Union where millions of Soviet people were literally worked to death. Soviet dictator Josef Stalin set up the gulags in the late 1920s and 1930s, and they lasted till the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.
Amnesty International released a report equating the American detainee system with the Soviet gulag. Rumsfeld said the group would have been better off focusing on the past abuses of the regime of Saddam Hussein that tortured, mutilated and killed "untold numbers" because they held views unacceptable to the regime.
"To compare the United States and Guantanamo Bay to such atrocities cannot be excused," Rumsfeld said.
The secretary welcomed oversight and criticism on human rights issues. "But those who make such outlandish charges lose any claim to objectivity or seriousness," he said.
A miniscule percentage of U.S. military personnel have been involved in detainee abuse, the secretary said. Of the more than 525,000 servicemembers who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, less than one-tenth of 1 percent have been found to have committed illegal acts against detainees, he said.
To date, there have been around 370 criminal investigations into the charges of misconduct against detainees.
And the secretary asked people to remember that the detainees are in custody for a reason. "Remember too that the people being detained at Guantanamo are suspected terrorists," Rumsfeld said. "Many have been trained to lie and claim torture."
He said U.S. forces have caught at least 12 detainees released from Guantanamo Bay that were back on the battlefield involved in efforts to kidnap and kill Americans.
While much has been written about the allegations of abuse, little has been reported about the great lengths the U.S. military goes to in accommodating religious and ethnic differences, Rumsfeld pointed out. The military has devised specific instructions in how to treat Muslim detainees. The military provides special Halal meals that meet cultural dietary requirements. Prison schedules are respectful of prayer, with cells indicating the direction to Mecca. There are also specific, written instructions in how to handle the Koran.