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US Lawmakers Satisfied with Conditions at Guantanamo


U.S. lawmakers who just returned from a tour of the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, expressed satisfaction with the conditions there and the protections of detainees' rights.

In the wake of reports of detainee abuse at the Guantanamo facility, lawmakers wanted a first hand look at the situation there.

Members of the House and Senate toured the facility over the past several days, met with U.S. personnel and monitored detainee interrogations. Republicans and Democrats alike returned to the U.S. Capitol Monday satisfied by what they saw.

"The treatment that is being provided to these detainees is in my opinion probably the most humane, high-quality treatment that any nation that has ever captured detainees at war has ever provided its prisoners," said Senator Mike Crapo, an Idaho Republican.

"I am convinced that the mistakes of the past are in fact in the past," said Senator Ben Nelson, a Democrat from Nebraska.

United Nations human rights investigators recently urged the United States to allow them to inspect the Guantanamo facility, citing what they called persistent and credible reports of allegations of torture and cruel and inhuman treatment of detainees.

But the Bush administration repeatedly has defended its handling of the detention center.

Senator Jim Bunning, a Republican from Kentucky, said the interrogations he witnessed were conducted in a humane way. He says detainees are providing valuable information to the United States.

"They have helped us better understand the structure of terrorist organizations," he said. "They know locations and transportation routes. They can validate information gathered on the battlefield. To this day, they continue to provide us with critical information in our fight against terrorism."

Earlier this month, U.S. officials defended their policy of holding detainees at Guantanamo indefinitely while the war on terrorism continues. The Bush administration has declared the detainees enemy combatants, affording them far fewer rights than prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.

Some lawmakers say more should be done to ensure an adequate legal process is in place to handle detainee cases.

Sen. Ron Wyden, left, talks about his recent visit to the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility during news conference with Sen. Ben Nelson
Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, was a member of the congressional delegation that just returned from Guantanamo.

"The most urgent task now is to articulate what reasons can justify holding these prisoners, and for the Congress to finally establish the precise legal status of these prisoners," he said.

Senator Wyden opposes calls from some of his Democratic colleagues to close the Guantanamo facility. He says he prefers having detainees interrogated under the improved conditions in Guantanamo rather than sending them to countries with what he calls a far less significant commitment to human rights, such as Egypt and Pakistan, for interrogation.

The United States is holding some 520 terrorism suspects from 40 nations at the Guantanamo detention center, which was opened in January 2002 in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. A dozen cases have been handed over to military commissions for investigation into possible war crimes, while four detainees have been charged.

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