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US Cooperating With Red Cross Inspectors At Guantanamo - 2002-01-22

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has defended U.S. treatment of 150 Taleban and Al-Qaida prisoners held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross reports its inspection team at Guantanamo Bay is receiving the full cooperation of U.S. officials.

At a news conference at the Pentagon, Secretary Rumsfeld flatly denied allegations that the detainees' basic rights are being violated. "I have not found a single scrap of any kind of information that suggests that anyone has been treated in any way other than humanely," he said.

British lawmakers, EU officials, and human-rights advocates have criticized the open-air cells housing the prisoners, as well as the United States' refusal to grant the detainees prisoner of war status. The criticism grew stronger after the release of photographs showing the detainees bound and kneeling on the ground in the compound.

Mr. Rumsfeld said the prisoners are dangerous men and that security concerns are of paramount importance. But he added that prisoners have access to showers, culturally-appropriate meals, and health care that is not available in Afghanistan.

In response to a question, the defense secretary made light of any suggestion that the prisoners be shielded from the intense heat of southeastern Cuba. Mr. Rumsfeld said he had spent time at the U.S. naval base in the days before air conditioning and that he survived the experience.

He also said the prisoners would not be detained indefinitely without trial. "At some point, they will either be charged or released. At the moment, it has been two-weeks since they have been there," he said. "The war on terrorism is not over. These people are committed terrorists. We are keeping them off the street and out of the airlines and out of nuclear power plants and it seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable thing to do."

Mr. Rumsfeld repeated the U.S. view that the prisoners, as members of a terrorist organization, are not entitled to prisoner of war status.

That view contrasts with pronouncements by Amnesty International and other human-rights groups.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has a four-member team inspecting conditions at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. ICRC spokesman Kim Gordon-Bates spoke with VOA by cellular phone.

"We presume that they are prisoners of war, simply because the Geneva Convention states that captured soldiers in a situation of international conflict is presumed to be a prisoner of war unless a competent tribunal states otherwise," he said. "It is a bit like innocence: you are innocent until proven guilty. So we presume that they are prisoners of war."

Mr. Gordon-Bates said the ICRC will not comment publicly on its findings at Guantanamo Bay. But he said the inspection process is proceeding well, and that U.S. military officials have cooperated fully with the effort.