Video: Rumsfeld: Guantanamo needed

updated 6/14/2005 4:04:19 PM ET 2005-06-14T20:04:19

Suggesting that the Guantanamo Bay prison for suspected terrorists will operate for years, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday that such a detention center will be needed until the war on terrorism is over.

Last week President Bush left open the possibility that the Guantanamo Bay facility might be closed, but Rumsfeld gave no such indication, saying there is no better alternative. He said U.S. taxpayers have already spent $100 million to build the facility in Cuba, which he said is costing $90 million to $95 million a year to operate.

“The United States government, let alone the U.S. military, does not want to be in the position of holding suspected terrorists any longer than is absolutely necessary,” Rumsfeld said, “but as long as there remains a need to keep terrorists from striking again, a facility will continue to be needed.”

At a Pentagon news conference, Rumsfeld offered a defense of U.S. handling of the approximately 520 detainees at facility, saying its operations have been more open to scrutiny than any military detention facility in history.

He said valuable information has been extracted from the detainees, most of whom are said to be threats to U.S. security.

Rumsfeld said the prisoners include terrorist trainers, bombmakers, extremist recruiters and financiers, bodyguards for Osama bin Laden and would-be suicide bombers.

“They’re not common car thieves. They’re believed to be determined killers,” he said.

Frist calls leaving ‘wrong thing to do’
Prominent Senate Republicans closed ranks Tuesday, saying that closing the Guantanamo facility will not repair a U.S. image tarnished by allegations of American troops mistreating terrorism suspects.

“To cut and run because of image problems is the wrong, wrong thing to do,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said there’s no doubt that the United States has an image problem because of allegations of abuse and torture at the prison in Cuba.

However, he added: “The key to this is to move the judicial process forward so that these individuals will be brought to trial for any crime that they are accused of rather than residing in Guantanamo facility in perpetuity.”

A few of their GOP colleagues are raising questions about keeping the prison in Cuba open, arguing that it has given the country a bad name abroad and undermined the war on terrorism.

Cheney, Reid perspectives
Answering the critics, Vice President Dick Cheney on Monday said that war-on-terror detainees would continue to be held at Guantanamo, even as the White House said all options for prison’s future were on the table.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., tried to turn the Guantanamo debate into a broader indictment of how the administration handles detainees. He said administration policies have “caused tremendous damage to American credibility around the world and placed our troops at greater risk.”

Over the past few days, several Republicans have acknowledged an image problem at Guantanamo. But they also have said that shutting down the facility, which one human-rights group likened to a “gulag,” is not the answer.

“Reform it, don’t close it,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a GOP member of the Armed Services Committee. On Monday, he said the prison is dysfunctional. “It’s hurting the war effort. The image of it is as a place where there’s a lack of rule and lack of procedures,” he added.

Human-rights activists and some lawmakers — mostly Democrats — want the administration to close the prison because of the allegations of torture and abuse of detainees. The prison holds about 540 terrorism suspects, including some who have not faced charges in three years.

Amnesty International has called the prison “the gulag of our time,” and former President Carter also has said it should be closed.

Food samples shown
Rep. Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, displayed for reporters Guantanamo-like prison entrees of lemon-baked fish and oven-fried chicken with rice, fruit and vegetables — “purchased for them by American taxpayers” — to illustrate conditions at the prison and to counter claims of mistreatment.

“They’ve never eaten better. They’ve never been treated better,” the California Republican said. “We don’t beat them. We don’t touch them. We’ve been treating people well.”

Still, GOP Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania planned a Judiciary Committee hearing on the issue Wednesday.

“We need to look and see whether any of the allegations being levied are real,” said Weldon, the No. 2 Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.

In the Senate, Democrats renewed their call for an objective, outside panel to review the abuse claims.

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, ranking Democrat on the Armed Services panel, said “the cloud will remain whether or not Guantanamo Bay is closed” without an independent investigation.

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