The Bush administration, with help from some Republicans in Congress, continues to counter criticisms concerning the treatment of prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay (Cuba) interrogation facility. The latest statements come in the wake of suggestions by Democrats, and some key Senate Republicans, that the Guantanamo facility should be shut down.
The defenses of interrogation procedures and overall treatment of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo moved into higher gear after some Republicans in Congress expressed concern about the damage reports of mistreatment have inflicted on the image of the United States.
In an appearance at the National Press Club in Washington, Vice President Dick Cheney defended the treatment of prisoners at the facility:
"I think these people have been treated far better than they could [have been] expected to be treated by virtually any other government on the face of the earth. And from that standpoint, I think our policy is a correct one," Mr. Cheney said. "As the president said the other day, we are continually reviewing these matters, these individuals at Guantanamo have their cases reviewed on an annual basis to see if their status has changed so that we could in fact alter there circumstances and that is a continuing proposition for us."
Some key Senate Republicans say methods used at the Guantanamo facility have become a magnet for bad publicity and damaged the war on terrorism.
Among them are Senators Mel Martinez and Chuck Hagel who suggested closing the Guantanamo interrogation facility, which holds some 540 suspected terrorists, most captured after the U.S. war against the Taleban regime in Afghanistan that supported al-Qaida leader Osama bin-Laden.
On the Democratic side, Senator Joseph Biden added his voice to those suggesting the Guantanamo facility be shut down.
At the White House, presidential spokesman Scott McLellan had this additional comment:
"Our military, our men and women in uniform, adhere to the highest standards, and that includes when it comes to treating detainees humanely," Mr. McLellan said.
On Capitol Hill, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Duncan Hunter, backed the administration.
Displaying a plate of food based on meals detainees at Guantanamo regularly receive, he criticizes what he calls fictions being circulated by human rights and other groups about how prisoners are treated:
"The inmates in Guantanamo have never eaten better, they have never been treated better, and they have never been more comfortable in their lives than in this situation, and the idea that somehow we are torturing people in Guantanamo is absolutely not true, unless you consider having to eat chicken three times a week, real torture," Mr. Hunter said.
Amnesty International and other groups have sharply criticized the U.S. military's treatment of detainees, with Amnesty calling the Guantanamo facility part of a gulag of U.S. detention centers, a term the head of Amnesty later said was not the best to use.
Congressman Hunter accuses Amnesty of promoting a myth of detainee mistreatment, and says the U.S. government and military have a responsibility not to prematurely release prisoners at Guantanamo who could pose an ongoing threat:
"I certainly would not agree with the idea that we should release Osama bin-Laden's bodyguards, or the 20th hijacker, back into the population, the world population, where they can kill Americans," Mr. Hunter said. "Of people who have been released, I know that 12 of them have shown up on the battlefield, killing Americans. That shows that in at least 12 cases we were too liberal with the release of those people."
Treatment of detainees will be the subject of a hearing on Wednesday overseen by Senator Arlen Specter, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.