May 18, 2006
Few at Guantanamo are interrogated, commander says
By Jane Sutton
GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE (Reuters) - Only about
one-fourth of the prisoners held at the Guantanamo naval base
are interrogated regularly because there are not enough
translators and interrogators to question them all, the U.S.
admiral in charge of the detention operation said on Thursday.
Rear Adm. Harry Harris, who at the end of March took
command of the military task force that runs the camp, said the
460 captives at Guantanamo in Cuba were dangerous men who still
provide useful information about al Qaeda tactics, financing
and safe houses.
But only those he described as senior al Qaeda and Taliban
leaders were routinely questioned by U.S. interrogators, he
"It's about around 25 percent of the population that we are
actively interrogating," Harris told visiting journalists.
"If we had unlimited interrogators and translators then we
could interrogate more. But we have limited resources so we
have to focus that the best way we can, so we go after those
detainees that have the largest intelligence value."
The rest are not ignored completely, he said. But asked if
some prisoners might have gone years without being questioned,
he replied, "I would think there are, but I just don't know."
The United States has faced criticism from human rights
groups and some of its allies for indefinitely holding
prisoners at Guantanamo. President George W. Bush said earlier
this month he would like to close the detention center.
Some 759 captives have been held at Guantanamo since the
detention operation opened in 2002, and nearly 300 have been
released or transferred to their home nations for continued
detention, including 15 sent home to Saudi Arabia on Thursday.
Harris said he expected the population to drop further as
officials in Washington complete diplomatic negotiations to
return about 120 more to their homelands.
He said he was convinced the rest were "truly dangerous men
intent on jihad" and must continue to be held for the
protection of Americans.
In a far-ranging interview, Harris said the United States
will spend $64 million to run the Guantanamo detention
operation this year, not counting the $30 million spent on a
new medium-security prison that will replace some of the aging
cells in August.
He said the Guantanamo captives were well treated and in
generally good health, but with the oldest now 71 years old,
the military had drafted a plan for dealing with any deaths.
Nearly all the prisoners are Muslim and Harris said a
Muslim chaplain was on call and would be sent to Guantanamo to
perform traditional rites. He said the body could be returned
to the prisoner's homeland or buried at a cemetery on the
Guantanamo base but that interment likely would not take place
swiftly, as Muslim tradition requires.
"We would conduct an autopsy because we want to understand
why the person died," Harris said. "Obviously we're going to be
subjected to lots of questions."
Shortly after the interview, a Guantanamo spokesman said
two prisoners had attempted suicide on Wednesday by overdosing
on prescription medicine they had apparently been hoarding.
They received emergency medical treatment, had normal vital
signs and were under observation in the camp hospital, said the
spokesman, Cmdr. Robert Durand.
He said there had been 39 suicide attempts by 23 Guantanamo
prisoners since the camp opened, including 12 attempts by the
same man. None have succeeded, Durand said.