Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Senators seek rules for Gitmo detainees

Senators seek rules for Gitmo detainees

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Two Democratic senators, just back from Guantanamo Bay, said Monday that Congress should come up with concrete rules for handling detainees at the U.S. prison there.

Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Ben Nelson of Nebraska said more precise rules would help ensure that prisoners would not be abused and that the United States would not suffer further embarrassments because of the way detainees were treated.

Wyden and Nelson made the comments after a three-day trip to Cuba that included a tour of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and extensive meetings with top U.S. officials and rank-and-file soldiers and sailors. The lawmakers also met with a top Cuban agriculture official in an effort to promote trade of cherries, peas and other crops grown in their states.

"The Bush administration is correct when they say these are unique circumstances" at Guantanamo, Wyden said at a Capitol news conference. "We are in a war. These are not your garden-variety criminal defendants."

But that "does not mean there should not be any concrete rules" for prisoner treatment, Wyden said. "Even in a war, reasonable Democrats and Republicans on a bipartisan basis ought to be able to ... establish a precise legal status for these and future prisoners."

Wyden and Nelson declined to offer specifics, but they said they hoped to work with Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter and other Republicans to draft language clarifying the rights and legal status of more than 500 terrorism suspects being held at Guantanamo.

Critics, including Amnesty International, have condemned conditions there as inhumane and complained that some prisoners have been held for more than three years without criminal charges.

Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, scolded the GOP-run Congress earlier his month for not doing more to clarify the rights of detainees.

"It may be that it's too hot to handle for Congress, may be that it's too complex ... or it may be that Congress wants to sit back as we customarily do. But at any rate, Congress hasn't acted," Specter said.

Wyden, a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence, and Nelson, of the Armed Services Committee, said they were impressed with Brig. Gen. Jay Hood, commander of the joint task force at Guantanamo Bay. They came away from their visit convinced that prisoners are being treated fairly, the senators said.

"There was not torture, not deprivation," Nelson said, adding that he based on his comments on his own observations and on conversations with troops from Nebraska.

"I know I can trust Nebraskans to tell me the truth," he said. "I'm comfortable that the mistakes of the past have been corrected."

Wyden agreed, but he said Congress still has a responsibility to set standards for prisoner treatment into law.


Associated Press writer Erica Werner contributed to this story.


On the Net:

Joint Task Force Guantanamo: http://www.jtfgtmo.southcom.mil