March 7, 2006

Gonzales defends conditions at Guantanamo

By Gideon Long

LONDON (Reuters) - The U.S. government's leading lawyer
defended the Guantanamo Bay prison camp on Tuesday, saying
detainees there were granted state-of-the-art health care, good
food and "unprecedented legal protection."

Responding to complaints by the United Nations, human
rights groups, religious leaders and some national governments,
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the camp was entirely
lawful and essential to the protection of the United States.

"We operate Guantanamo because there's a necessity, a need,
for the United States to detain enemy combatants somewhere," he
said in a speech in London. "That was the genesis of
Guantanamo. This need continues today."

Gonzales said all detainees at the camp in eastern Cuba
were granted an assessment by U.S. authorities, a right of
reply and a separate, formal hearing of their case before a
three-member tribunal with a right to appeal.

"We are aware of no other nation in history that has
afforded such protection for enemy combatants," he told the
International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

Included among the 500 detainees at the camp are terrorist
trainers, bomb makers, former bodyguards of al Qaeda leader
Osama bin Laden and potential suicide bombers, he said.

"Detainees are permitted access to state-of-the-art medical
care, healthy meals consistent with their cultural and
religious requirements and an opportunity to observe religious

Organizations across the world, from the United Nations to
the Vatican, have decried U.S. use of indefinite detentions
without charge at Guantanamo. In four years, only 10 detainees
from the camp have been formally charged with a crime.

Former detainees have also accused U.S. authorities of
using torture at Guantanamo, a charge denied by the Pentagon.

"Some say that in pursuing the war on terror, America has
failed to respect human rights and the rule of law," Gonzales
said. "Nothing could be further from the truth."

He said around 265 detainees had been either freed or
transferred from Guantanamo since it opened in the wake of the
attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.

Of those, 15 had since been recaptured or killed.