Rumsfeld Visits, Thanks U.S. Troops at Camp X-Ray in Cuba
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
U.S. NAVAL BASE, GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA, Jan. 27, 2002 Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld flew here today to visit Joint Task Force 160 troops at Camp X-Ray, where 158 Taliban and Al Qaeda detainees are now under U.S. military control.
The U.S. servicemen and women at Camp X-Ray "are doing a first-rate job," Rumsfeld noted during an afternoon press conference at the facility. "I came down to say 'thank you,'" he added.
Four U.S. senators accompanied Rumsfeld to Guantanamo: Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also accompanied Rumsfeld on the trip. A previous congressional delegation visited the camp Jan. 25.
During the flight to Cuba Rumsfeld told reporters he has "absolutely full confidence in the way the detainees are being handled and treated" at Camp X-Ray. U.S. service members pulling duty are performing "a tough job," the secretary said.
"There has been a lot of confusion and misinformation about what they're doing down there. These are terrific young men and women doing an excellent job, and I want to tell them that," Rumsfeld said.
The secretary noted he also wanted to talk to Camp X-Ray's senior officers about construction plans for additional, more permanent facilities for detainees. Rumsfeld also said he'd speak with members of the International Committee of the Red Cross now visiting the camp.
Rumsfeld told reporters on the flight to Cuba that Taliban and Al Qaeda detainees at the Guantanamo Bay and Kandahar, Afghanistan, facilities "are not POWs" and characterized them instead as "unlawful combatants." He emphasized the detainees are being treated humanely.
"Don't forget, he said, "we're treating these people as if the Geneva Convention applied."
However, he added, the strict security rules in place at Camp X-Ray are warranted. He called the detainees at Guantanamo "among the most dangerous, best-trained, vicious killers on the face of the earth. This is very, very serious business."
More than 200 other detainees who are considered less dangerous than those at Guantanamo are under U.S. control at a facility near Kandahar.
Upon arrival at Guantanamo, Rumsfeld and party traveled to the camp and went inside the detainee compound to speak with guards, medical officers and other support personnel.
Afterward, the group visited other task force troops supporting the detention mission. Marine Corps Maj. Steve Cox, task force spokesman, noted that 1,500 JTF-160 service members have joined the 2,400 troops and families already at Guantanamo before the detention operation began 21 days ago.
The senators and Rumsfeld then held a press conference. All concurred that the detainees were being treated well. Feinstein said the detainees live better than inmates in some California prisons she's seen. Stevens and Inouye seemed to suggest that the detainees were getting better treatment than perhaps they deserved.
"This is not an egregious situation," said Feinstein, noting that the Guantanamo detainees are not being mistreated.
Hutchison said the Joint Task Force 160 troops are doing a good job providing religious materials and medical care to the detainees -- the same type of medical care available to U.S. troops and their family members, she noted.
Cox noted the detainees receive three meals a day -- including two hot -- have medical care, receive Korans and have the opportunity to practice their religion.
"The detainees are not being mistreated," Cox emphasized.
Rumsfeld and the senators noted that they didn't speak to the detainees and the detainees didn't speak to them.
Navy Dr. (Cmdr.) James Gallagher is an eye specialist who said he has treated Guantanamo detainees for old eye injuries, none combat-related. The detainees, he remarked, seem grateful for the medical attention.
Navy Muslim Chaplain (Lt.) Saiful Islam, who called the detainees to afternoon prayer during Rumsfeld's visit, said he has spoken with some of the detainees.
"They ask me what is going to happen to them," the chaplain said, adding he tells them, "I don't know."
Rumsfeld thanked the troops for their good work at Guantanamo, adding that information provided from interrogations of detainees has helped to prevent terrorist acts.
The defense secretary said it was fortunate that the United States went to Afghanistan and worked with its people "to liberate that country from the Al Qaeda and the Taliban."
"We were able to capture and detain a large number of people who had been through terrorist training camps and had learned a whole host of skills as to how they could kill innocent people -- not how they could kill other soldiers. ...
"We've got a good slug of those folks off the street where they can't kill more people," he said.
Rumsfeld told reporters on the plane trip en route to Guantanamo that he would make recommendations tomorrow to President Bush about the possibility of forming a military organization that would oversee homeland defense operations.