By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 13, 2005
Vice President Cheney said yesterday that the administration has no plans to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as some prominent Democrats have recommended, but other Republicans said that reports of mistreatment of prisoners there have made the prison a growing global liability.
Additional information about aggressive interrogation tactics at Guantanamo surfaced yesterday that could heighten the debate further.
In remarks to be broadcast today on Fox News, Cheney said the administration was reviewing its options at the prison "on a continuous basis." But he defended its track record, saying, "The important thing here to understand is that the people that are at Guantanamo are bad people."
But Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) said that the situation in Guantanamo is one reason the United States is "losing the image war around the world," and that closing the prison could help in that contest.
"It's identifiable with, for right or wrong, a part of America that people in the world believe is a power, an empire that pushes people around, we do it our way, we don't live up to our commitments to multilateral institutions," Hagel told CNN's "Late Edition." He said Defense Department leaders have not taken responsibility for the excesses at the prison, which have included controversial harsh treatment of prisoners and desecrations of the Koran.
On Friday, Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) called the prison "an icon for bad stories."
There are about 540 inmates at Guantanamo -- most captured in Afghanistan or otherwise associated with al Qaeda. None of the inmates has been charged, and some were returned to their homes after it was determined -- sometimes years after they were captured -- that they did not pose any danger.
The Senate Judiciary Committee plans a hearing Wednesday on the detainee issue.
"We've actually created a legal black hole there," Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), the committee's ranking Democrat, said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "We're the country that tells people that we adhere to the rule of law. We want other countries to adhere to the rule of law. And in Guantanamo, we are not."
Speaking on the same show, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) defended the prison as necessary. "When you catch somebody in Afghanistan or other parts of the world that's engaged in the war of terror, you need to take them off the battlefield," he said. "Prisoners of war are released when the war is over. Well, there's nobody to sign a surrender treaty with here. So you've got a hybrid system."
An article published yesterday by Time magazine documenting the interrogation of one prisoner added to the controversy. The magazine quoted from a log made during the winter of 2002-03 of the treatment of Mohamed al Qahtani, a Saudi man suspected of having close ties to the Sept. 11 hijackers.
The magazine said he was questioned in a room filled with pictures of Sept. 11 victims, was made to urinate in his pants and was told to wear photos of near-naked women around his neck. He was also forced to bark like a dog and was turned down at times when he asked to pray, the magazine said.
The Defense Department said in response that Qahtani's questioning was handled in a professional manner and that he gave important information about Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda infiltration routes.