Questions about the treatment of 158 al-Qaida and Taleban detainees being held at the U.S. Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba appear to be putting strains on the U.S.-led international coalition fighting terrorism. But following a visit to Guantanamo Bay, efforts are under way to mute any further criticism from abroad.
Senator Diane Feinstein of California says she knows prisons, having spent a lot of time dealing with legal and political matters not only in prisons in her home state of California but even some overseas. "I've been in more than half of California's prisons," she said. "I've been in about seven Japanese prisons, in the narcotic facility in Hong Kong and in several facilities in Europe. So I know what they [prisons] look like."
So after a first-hand look at the controversial Camp X-Ray detention facility for Taleban and al-Qaida captives at the U.S. Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, Senator Feinstein makes clear her views, the detainees are being treated humanely and critics of their treatment are misinformed.
Senator Feinstein said, "I just want to ask our friends who are so ready to be critical to take another look. Because I'll be very candid with you. I would much rather be here in an eight by eight [2.5 meter by 2.5 meter cell] with a breeze than locked down in Folsom Prison [in California]."
Her reference to friends so ready to be critical appears aimed at Britain, where some members of Parliament and elements of the news media have taken the U.S. government to task over the detainees. Complaints have focused on pictures of some detainees in blindfolds and shackles, kneeling inside the Guantanamo detention facility after their arrival from Afghanistan.
Donald Anderson of the ruling Labour Party is chairman of the Parliamentary foreign affairs select committee. His comments were carried by the BBC. "If the facts are as they appear to be," he said, "I believe the British government should talk very strongly to our U.S. allies and say, look, not only is this wrong, but it's against our interests and your interests in that there will be a diplomatic backlash, that we will begin to loose not only the high ground but loose the support of some of our allies."
That kind of criticism irritated U.S. lawmakers, none of them more so that Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, another first-hand visitor to Camp X-Ray. "I saw a portion of the television presentation of the debate in the House of Commons," he said. "I don't know how many of you did, but it infuriated me and I do believe that the British Parliamentarians have done us a great disservice and a great disservice to the young men and women here [soldiers] who are trying to take care of these people."
When a British reporter tried to ask Senator Stevens a follow-up question, the reporter was admonished to be sure to go back and tell the truth. "If you're from Britain," he said, "I hope you go back and tell them the truth. That program made me mad as hell and I don't see any reason for that. They spoke on the basis of information that came through the press that was unreliable. I hope you'll be more reliable than that."
Pentagon officials say they were taken by surprise by the wave of criticism that surfaced after the first of the 158 detainees now at Guantanamo Bay was sent there.
Since then, they have invited representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross to examine the facilities. There is no word on whether the Red Cross has made any recommendations for changes in the handling of the detainees.
But in the meantime, by bringing lawmakers and reporters to Camp X-Ray, U.S. military authorities clearly hope to defuse any further strains with close allies.