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Pentagon: Gitmo prisoners treated humanely

The Guantanamo Bay prison meets the standard for humane treatment laid out in the Geneva Conventions but could use some changes, according to a Pentagon report.
Guantanamo Detainees
A detainee peers through his hands from inside his cell at the Camp Echo detention facility at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in this photo reviewed by the U.S. military.Brennan Linsley / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Guantanamo Bay prison meets the standard for humane treatment laid out in the Geneva Conventions but could use some changes in how it handles its more dangerous or less compliant prisoners, according to a Pentagon report.

The report was prepared for President Barack Obama, who has ordered the terrorist detention center closed within a year.

The recommended changes include an increase in group recreation for those prisoners, according to a government official familiar with the study. The report also suggested allowing those prisoners to gather in groups of three or more, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the report has not been released.

Some of the hard-core prisoners are not currently allowed to meet with other prisoners for prayer or socialization and are kept in their cells for 23 hours a day. Alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed is among the prisoners who could be affected by the change. Prolonged social isolation has been known to harm mental health among prisoners.

The 85-page report by Adm. Patrick M. Walsh, the Navy's second in command, was written in response to Obama's Jan. 22 executive order to close the facility at the U.S. naval base in Cuba within a year.

Attorney General Eric Holder, meanwhile, named a top federal prosecutor, Matthew Olsen, as executive director of Obama's Guantanamo Detainee Review Task Force, which will recommend where to send each detainee. Obama has ordered the task force to consider whether to transfer, release or prosecute the detainees, or figure out some other "lawful means for disposition" if none of those options is available.

As a presidential candidate, Obama criticized the detention center that human rights groups and many in the international community widely condemned for harsh treatment of prisoners during the Bush administration. The military has defended its actions, saying prisoners have been treated humanely since the center was set up after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The report found the camp to be in compliance with the Geneva Conventions Common Article 3, the international rules that require the humane treatment of prisoners taken in unconventional armed conflicts, like the war on terrorism. The camp's controversial force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strikes was also found to be compliant with the Geneva guidelines, a second government official confirmed.

About 800 prisoners have been held there, many for years and nearly all without criminal charges. There are now around 250.

In a separate case involving legal challenges to imprisonment, the Obama administration, siding with the Bush White House, contended Friday that detainees in Afghanistan have no constitutional rights.

In a two-sentence court filing, the Justice Department said it agreed that detainees at Bagram Airfield cannot use U.S. courts to challenge their detention in a filing that angered human rights attorneys.

The Supreme Court last summer gave al-Qaida and Taliban suspects held at Guantanamo the right to challenge their detention. With about 600 detainees at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and thousands more held in Iraq, courts are grappling with whether they, too, can sue to be released.

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