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Rumsfeld defends decision on prisoner access

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Tuesday defended the government’s decision to bar U.N. human rights investigators from meeting with prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Tuesday defended the government’s decision not to permit United Nations human rights investigators to meet with imprisoned terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay.

Last week the Pentagon invited three U.N. experts to visit the detention facilities in Cuba. But while the experts said they were happy the invitation finally came after more than three years of requests, they said they would not go if they could not interview prisoners.

“It makes no sense (to go),” Manfred Nowak, special investigator on torture and other cruel treatment, told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York on Monday. “You cannot do a fact-finding mission without talking to the detainees.”

Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news conference that it was not appropriate to give U.N. investigators the same extensive access at Guantanamo that has been granted to officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

“There has to be a limit to how one does that,” Rumsfeld said. He added that the decision not to provide full access to the U.N. officials was made not by the Pentagon but by the U.S. government as a whole.

Rumsfeld also was asked why he believes some of the detainees have been conducting a hunger strike.

“What they’re trying to do is capture press attention, obviously, and they’ve succeeded,” he replied.

Seven of the prisoners on the hunger strike are hospitalized and being force-fed, according to the government.

Many of the nearly 500 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have been held more than 3½ years without charge or access to lawyers. Most were captured in the Afghanistan war, suspected of ties to the al-Qaida terrorist network or the Taliban regime ousted by U.S. forces in late 2001.