A report issued by the UN's Human Rights Commission on Thursday called for the closing of the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay. When asked about the report, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that while he does not agree with everything in it, he supports its main conclusions. Mr. Annan said sooner or later there will be a need to close Guantanamo and it will be up to the U.S. government to do it "as soon as possible." U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld indicated on Friday that the facility will not be closed, and he criticized the report for relying on false claims by terrorists. On a recent visit to the Guantanamo detention center, VOA Pentagon Correspondent Al Pessin found indications that the military has long-term plans for the facility.
Most of Guantanamo's detainees are in open-air cells made of chain link fence with a metal roof, or simple barracks where up to 10 cooperative men are allowed to live together. But some are in a new, modern facility that cost more than $30 million to build, and looks like it is there for the long term.
As in any maximum security facility, the outer steel door must be closed and locked before the inner steel door can be opened.
SERGEANT: "Welcome to Camp Five. Here at Camp Five we house high value detainees that have been vetted by the Interrogation Control element and approved by the Joint Task Force Commander. This facility is actually designed based on an existing facility in Indiana."
That is the U.S. Army sergeant who is the senior non-commissioned officer at the new prison building known as Camp Five. He declined to give his name.
SERGEANT: "Please don't take any photographs of my control center. My control center is state of the art. My control clerks have a touch-screen computer monitor that controls all the doors and gates within the facility. They also monitor all the security cameras within the camp. This is a climate controlled environment. This facility also meets all U.S. standards and codes."
Camp Five is a two-story building surrounded by high fences and barbed wire, with fenced exercise yards nearby. It can house up to 100 detainees. And perhaps more important, there is another similar building under construction right next to it that will be known as Camp Six. The large cranes, hard-hatted construction workers and piles of building material do not look like part of any facility that is going to be abandoned anytime soon.
Secretary Rumsfeld hinted as much in an appearance Friday at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
"Every once in a while someone pops up and gets some press for saying, 'Oh, let's close Guantanamo Bay.' Well, if someone has a better idea, I'd like to hear it," said Mr. Rumsfeld.
Secretary Rumsfeld says the men held at Guantanamo must be detained because if they were free they would return to terrorism. He noted that 15 of the men who have been released have done so.
However, the military recently decided it can release or turn over to their home countries 127 of the 496 men held at Guantanamo, and the State Department is working on making arrangements for that. In addition, the military has started another round of reviews designed to determine whether any more detainees can be released. Lawyers for the detainees, and human rights activists, say the review process is inadequate and unfair because no lawyers are involved and military officers make the recommendations, rather than civilian judges.
U.S. officials have also rejected the United Nations report because the authors never visited Guantanamo. The U.N. investigators decided to decline an invitation to visit the base because the military would not let them interview detainees. In a VOA interview, the commander of the Joint Task Force that holds the detainees, Major General Jay Hood, explained why.
"I would have concerns about anybody visiting with the detainees who could then serve as a platform for them to espouse a vile jihadist rhetoric," said Mr. Hood. "In other words, I don't think it's appropriate that we would offer them a platform by which to communicate with other terrorists around the world, provide encouragement to this sort of activity, or for that matter encourage any sort of action against U.S. forces around the world. And there's no question in my mind that some of the men we're holding here would certainly do that if they could."
The U.S. military allows representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross to have private meetings with detainees, but that organization keeps its findings confidential.
"The International Committee of the Red Cross has access to every detainee here. They have full access to every one of my camp facilities, all of them," he added. "They have an opportunity to communicate, in private, with the detainees. We have an excellent working relationship with the International Committee of the Red Cross, and I have found them very helpful in providing recommendations to us on how we can improve our operation here, how we can provide for safe, humane custody of the men we are holding."
General Hood says the Red Cross has made many recommendations that he has accepted. He said one had to do with the specific location of something, but he stopped himself from providing details.
"I'd love to discuss this with you. If I told you, you'd go, 'Of course, that makes perfectly good sense.' But I'm afraid I'm right on the edge of communicating something that is still considered privileged," he explained. "What I can tell you is any allegation of mistreatment or abuse are provided to us rapidly, are thoroughly investigated and if any action is required from those, it is taken."
The controversy over the legality of the detention of Guantanamo's detainees, and the conditions under which they live, will undoubtedly continue. The Defense Department says it has made great strides in improving the conditions and treatment of its detainees worldwide following revelations of past abuses. But it has also made clear that the controversy will not end its operations at Guantanamo, and that the men the U.S. military believes must remain locked behind the double steel doors, will remain there until they are no longer a threat.