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Senators say legislation needed for Guantanamo

July 14, 2005

By Vicki Allen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress should pass
legislation defining the legal status of enemy combatants at
Guantanamo Bay to avoid more damage to the United States’ image
abroad and reprisals against U.S. soldiers, senators said on
Thursday.

But the Pentagon said existing laws allow the indefinite
detention of people the United States has deemed enemies in the
war on terrorism, and that legislation could be too restrictive
and was not needed.

“The truth is due to no one’s fault Guantanamo Bay is a
legal mess,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican,
said at a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing.

With the Pentagon under fire for the treatment of detainees
at Guantanamo, Graham is working on legislation with fellow
Republicans John Warner of Virginia, the Armed Services
Committee chairman, and John McCain of Arizona to clarify the
legal standing of people the administration calls “enemy
combatants” who can be held indefinitely.

Human rights groups and a number of European countries have
said that term has no standing under international law, and the
detainees should have the rights of prisoners of war.

Guantanamo, opened after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the
United States, has become a lightening rod for criticism with
accusation that the mostly Muslim detainees from the U.S.-led
offensive in Afghanistan have been tortured and humiliated.

The Pentagon contends detainees have not been tortured,
although it found a key prisoner was subjected to “abusive and
degrading” treatment when U.S. interrogators told him he was a
homosexual, forced him to wear a bra, made him wear a leash and
perform dog tricks, and subjected him to interrogations up to
20 hours a day for about two months.

There are about 520 detainees at Guantanamo from more than
40 countries being held because they are deemed dangerous or to
extract information from them on the al Qaeda network blamed
for the Sept. 11 attacks. Many have been held for more than
three years. Only four have been charged and none prosecuted.

Senators said harsh interrogation practices and the refusal
to grant prisoner of war status to detainees could backfire
when U.S. soldiers are captured.

“Our troops are looking at us to see whether we’re going to
adopt a standard that if they were captured would be
acceptable,” said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the committee’s
top Democrat.

Warner defended Guantanamo’s current operations “as the
best they can do under a framework of laws that is either not
clear or needs to be refined.”

Graham pressed a panel of Pentagon legal officials on
whether a law passed by Congress clarifying the status of enemy
combatants would speed up the legal dispute that has blocked
prosecutions of detainees.

Daniel Dell’Orto, the Pentagon’s principal deputy general
counsel, said the litigation would continue with or without
legislation. “I don’t know that that’s a panacea for any
problem we have right now,” he said.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June 2004 ruled that detainees
had the right to go to federal courts to seek their release
from Guantanamo, but there have been sometimes contradictory
lower court rulings since then.




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