By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 10, 2007 – The detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, remains a valuable asset in the war on terror as a place to hold enemy combatants and a source of useful intelligence to prevent future terrorist attacks, a top Defense Department official said here today. "It's important during a time of war to have a place where, number one, you can take people off the battlefield and not allow them to go back to the battlefield ... but also, exploit intelligence that they may possess," Charles Stimson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, said in an interview on C-SPAN. "Guantanamo today remains the key strategic intelligence platform in the war on terror."
This week marks the fifth anniversary of the first arrival of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. About 395 detainees are now in the detention facility, which is co-located on the island with Naval Station Guantanamo Bay.
The detainees at Guantanamo Bay are terrorist trainers, financiers and supporters, and it is important for the U.S. to have a place to hold them until the war on terror is over, Stimson said. He stressed that the law of armed conflict allows any country under the Geneva Conventions to hold enemy combatants, without charging them with crimes, to keep them off the battlefield.
The U.S. has released or transferred 377 detainees to other countries since the detention facility opened, Stimson said. About 100 more are cleared for release and waiting for diplomatic negotiations with their home countries. These detainees were either deemed to no longer be a threat, or other countries agreed to accept them for further detention.
"As the president has said, we don't want to be the world's jailer," Stimson said. "We want other countries to step up and accept responsibilities for detainees during this time of war."
The conditions at Guantanamo are safe and humane, Stimson said. The detainees get to exercise regularly, are fed culturally and religiously appropriate meals, receive excellent medical and dental care, have access to mail and a library, and have the opportunity to practice their religion. Also, the International Committee of the Red Cross has unfettered access to the detainees.
Stimson pointed out that even though unlawful enemy combatants aren't protected by the Geneva Conventions, the U.S. has adopted a high standard of treatment for all detainees. "I think we should be proud as a country that we established that," he said. "We can't lower ourselves to where the enemy would take us; we have to remain the paragon of human rights that we are."
Intelligence yielded from the interrogations continues to be valuable in the war on terror, he said. He gave as an example one incident where Guantanamo detainees identified a high-level Al Qaeda leader.
The Defense Department is slated to submit a manual on military commissions to Congress Jan. 15 that will outline the rules and procedures to be followed in trying detainees charged with war crimes. Once the manual receives approval, military commissions at Guantanamo Bay are expected to continue, Stimson said.
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