GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba - The position of the European left and liberal Democrats on the detention center for suspected terrorists captured on the battlefield has been this: American troops are torturing people on U.S. territory and denying them their civil and human rights. Sen. Dick Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said so in a Senate floor speech on June 14, 2005: "If I... did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or others -- that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners."
I decided to visit the infamous "torture center" to see for myself. Unlike some critics, I began with the premise that my fellow countrymen and women are honorable people who care about their nation and are willing to do whatever it takes within our laws to protect us from killers. Call me duped, but having served in the Army and having many relatives in service, this has been my personal experience and observation over many years.
The "camps" at Guantanamo resemble American prisons. At least two are modeled after prisons in Indiana and Michigan. The guards are intelligent, respectful and professional. U.S. policy offers the detainees more rights than could be expected for any American captured in Iraq. They get religiously approved food -- up to 4,200 calories per day. I ate one of their lunches, consisting of chicken, noodles, green beans, apple juice, bread and baklava. Arrows on their beds point toward Mecca and they are given undisturbed time to pray.
An interrogation room has a comfortable couch and chair, a table, rug and teapot. Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of the Joint Task Force, says interrogators live up to the letter and spirit of the Geneva Conventions and abide by the latest Army Field Manual. Detainees are not questioned after 10 p.m. or before 6 a.m.
Guards are exposed to significant threats and long-term risks. Many of the detainees threaten to kill the guards and their families should they get out, or be given the chance to communicate with their associates on the outside. Guards cover up their names, but Adm. Harris says the detainees have ways of learning them through our legal system. The detainees are not nice guys and none has been converted to the American point of view by being treated humanely. Yet, Adm. Harris says, "Not a single case of torture or inhumane treatment has ever been substantiated. We are the most transparent detention facility in the world."
Statements by some of the detainees convey the threat we face: "We thank the creator for the fall of the infidels' Trade Towers." "The coterie of dogs started to tumble down burning in black fire and the smoke went up saying, 'victory to Islam.'" "The terrorists are innocent because they are jihadists." "Suicide is illegal according to the Koran, but if your hunger strike is to get the release of your brothers and make your enemies suffer, then if you die, you die a martyr."
One wants to write a book "How to Kill a Man in Three Seconds." Another, who has assaulted a Gitmo guard on numerous occasions (with makeshift weapons, human waste, semen and vomit), stated he can either go back home and kill as many Americans as possible, or he can leave here in a box; either way it's the same to him.
This detention center is costing American taxpayers plenty. According to the Department of Defense, Camp 6, the latest to open, cost $37 million. The behavioral health unit cost $2.65 million to build, equip and staff. It costs $2.6 million a year to feed the current population of approximately 430. Cells are clean and detainees receive "comfort items," including a Koran in Arabic or their native language, prayer beads, toothpaste and brush, a razor that cannot be used as a weapon and toilet and shower facilities. Every detainee has access to the library, which contains more than 3,000 books in their native language.
Medical facilities equal those of a military hospital. Specialists are flown in regularly to deal with individual needs.
"At least 20, maybe as many as 40, who have been released have rejoined the battle," says Adm. Harris, including one with a prosthetic leg paid for by the American taxpayer.
Brig. Gen. Thomas Hemingway, legal adviser to the Appointing Authority, Office of Military Commissions, tells me, "No trials are anticipated before 2007. There is a question as to what the federal courts will do. For the first time in our history we are contemplating trials while a war is going on."
Americans should be proud of those who serve their country by protecting us from these really bad men. They live up to their slogan, which is posted on a sign at the camp entrance: "Honor Bound to Defend Freedom." They defend our freedom and their honor. Americans should be proud of them.
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