President Bush on Wednesday left open the possibility that the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, could be shut down.
“We’re exploring all alternatives as to how best to do the main objective, which is to protect America,” Bush told Fox News Channel’s Neil Cavuto in an interview.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he did not know of anyone in the administration who was considering closing Guantanamo.
The military provides “a stable and secure and safe environment,” he told reporters traveling with him in Norway. “Information gained from detainees there has saved the lives of people from our country and from other countries.”
The Pentagon disclosed last week that U.S. guards or interrogators at Guantanamo kicked, stepped on and splashed urine on the Quran. That followed a report in Newsweek, later retracted, that U.S. investigators had confirmed that a guard had deliberately flushed a prisoner’s Quran in a toilet. The White House blamed that report for violent protests in Muslim nations.
The prison holds about 540 detainees. Some have been there more than three years without being charged with any crime. Most were captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002 and were sent to Guantanamo Bay in hope of extracting useful intelligence about the al-Qaida terrorist network.
Former President Carter said at a human rights conference Tuesday that closing the prison would demonstrate the U.S. commitment to human rights at a time when Washington’s reputation has suffered because of reports of prisoner abuses from Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Amnesty International has branded the facility the “the gulag of our time,” which Bush dismissed again Wednesday.
“It’s just absurd to equate Gitmo and Guantanamo with a Soviet gulag,” he said. “Just not even close.”
Irene Khan, secretary-general of organization, said she was interested in Bush’s remark that he is exploring all alternatives on Guantanamo. She urged him to close the prison, charge the detainees under U.S. law or release them.
“He should order full disclosure of U.S. policies and practices on detention and interrogation of prisoners and support an independent investigation into abuses,” she said. “This would reassert the basic principles of justice, truth and freedom in which Americans take so much pride.”
Bush said the Guantanamo detainees are being treated in accordance with international standards and that any allegations of mistreatment are fully investigated. He defended the policy of holding enemy combatants.
“It’s in our nation’s interest that we learn a lot about those people that are still in detention, because we’re still trying to find out how to better protect our country,” he said. “What we don’t want to do is let somebody out that comes back and harms us.”
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