Members of Congress and senior commanders from the Guantanamo detention facility defended the treatment of detainees at the prison, during a congressional hearing Wednesday.
At the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee hearing room, senior officers and members of Congress from both parties expressed support for the policies at Guantanamo, and said it continues to be a vital element in the war on terrorism.
The committee chairman, Republican Duncan Hunter, countered recent calls by some human rights groups for the facility to be closed.
"Guantanamo will be kept open," said Duncan Hunter. "The facility is keeping known terrorists off the battlefield, while providing us with valuable intelligence."
The senior Democrat on the committee, Representative Ike Skelton, agreed, but also warned officers at the hearing to be sure to fully investigate all allegations of mistreatment of detainees, in an effort to convince people around the world that conditions at Guantanamo are humane.
"Whether these are found to have merit or not, they are noted by those who would recruit terrorists to fight against us and by people throughout the Muslim world," said Ike Skelton. "We must not provide this recruiting tool for those who would fight us."
The commander of the Guantanamo detention facility, Brigadier General Jay Hood, told the committee that extensive efforts are made to provide decent conditions for the more than 500 detainees, including good food, and time for exercise and prayer. But General Hood also said most of the detainees are dangerous men who remain intent on harming Americans, and he said it is still useful to interrogate them, even though many of them have been in custody for several years.
"Many of the detainees we have demonstrated that they were extremely skilled at counter-interrogation techniques," said General Hood. "And in some cases, detainees under our control for as long as two years, who had resisted talking to us and refused to communicate any relevant information, have, over the last six months, elected to begin to talk to us about where they were and what their activities were."
Democrat Ellen Tauscher, who was among several committee members who visited Guantanamo this past weekend, indicated she had changed her view of the facility.
"I am convinced, General, through the secret briefings that we had with you, which were very excellent, by the way, that they are of contemporaneous intelligence value," said Ellen Tauscher. "It's hard to believe that somebody who has been in captivity for three years actually knows something that is worthwhile, about current operations that are going (on) around the world in the terrorist business, but they apparently do."
Some human rights groups have criticized the Guantanamo facility for alleged mistreatment of detainees, and particularly for alleged desecration of the Islamic holy book, the Koran. A military investigation concluded that there had been some incidents of disrespectful treatment of the Koran, but that most were accidental and that procedures have been put in place to avoid such incidents in the future.
In addition, General Hood said Wednesday that procedures have been put in place to ensure that there is no abuse of prisoners, as was documented at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and alleged at Guantanamo. And he said he and his officers have a cordial and professional relationship with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, who he said have regular access to the prison.