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oqughuci
15-06-05, 05:55
US politicians wrangle over future of Guantanamo prison camp

Photo: AFP
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WASHINGTON (AFP) - As debate continued to rage in Washington over the future of the Guantanamo Bay detention center, the US Congress prepared to hold hearings on alleged mistreatment of foreign inmates at the military facility.

A US Senate Judicary committee hearing was to discuss calls to shut the facility down altogether, as well as proposals for a blue-ribbon panel to explore the future of the detention camp.

Dianne Feinstein, a prominent Democrat on the panel, said she hoped Wednesday's hearing would fill in facts about Guantanamo and other military installations that are shrouded in secrecy, such as "the rules they follow, how the rules change, how they get modulated, what access Red Cross has, whether they can come at their will or whether they have to wait for clearance."

Feinstein said senators also would discuss "whether we should appoint a special commission, or whether we should take some action ourselves."

The Guantanamo naval base in Cuba, where some 540 "war on terror" detainees from about 40 countries are held, is at the center of an international debate, amid allegations that US forces abused detainees in an overzealous effort to get information that might prevent potential attacks against the United States like the September 11, 2001 terror strikes.

Time magazine this week published secret US interrogation logs describing how a Saudi detainee was forcibly injected with fluids, questioned with military dogs present and straddled by a female soldier.

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Several prominent Americans, including former Democratic president Jimmy Carter, have called for the camp's closure on human rights grounds, while Amnesty International last month unleashed a firestorm by calling Guantanamo the "gulag of our times."

On the floor of the US Senate on Tuesday, Senator Richard Durbin, his party's number two official, upped the ante, likening the policies that led to the imprisonment of inmates at Guantanamo to the US internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

"As World War II began with the attack on Pearl Harbor, a country in fear ... decided that one way to protect America ws to gather together Japanese Americans .... and put them in internment camps."

"It was a shameful period in Ameican history, and one that very few if any try to defend today. I believe that the torture techniques that have been used at Abu Ghraib (prison in Iraq), Guantanamo and other places fall into that same category."

The allegations of prisoner mistreatment at Guantanamo come amid strong denials by President George W. Bush's administration, which nevertheless is sending mixed signals as to whether the facility will be kept open.

Bush has said the United States was open to "alternatives" to Guantanamo, but this week Vice President Dick Cheney declared that there were no plans to close the camp.

Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Tuesday insisted that the Guantanamo detention camp remains an essential part of the US "war on terror" -- despite international controversy over the treatment of detainees.

"As long as there remains a need to keep terrorists from striking again, a facility will continue to be needed," he said.

And the Senate's top Republican counseled that it would be unwise to "cut and run" from Guantanamo.

"I believe ... that we should not shut it down," said Senator Bill Frist, head of the Republican majority in the Senate.

"Yes, there is an image challenge that we have that centers on Guantanamo, an image challenge that we have with Abu Ghraib ... But let's not cut and run because of image problems. Let's address the fundamental issues," Frist said.

Meanwhile, prominent Republican Senator John McCain said alleged prisoner abuse at Guantanamo has created an "image problem" for the United States that can be fixed only by putting inmates on trial or releasing them.

"The key to this is to move the judicial process forward so that these individuals will be brought to trial for any crime that they are accused of, rather than residing in Guantanamo facility in perpetuity," McCain said.

"We need to bring charges against them if there are reasons or charges to do so. And I hope that that can happen as soon as possible."