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Guantanamo camp called 'best option' in war on terrorism


WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld offered a lengthy rebuttal yesterday to recent calls to close the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, arguing that intelligence gleaned from suspected terrorists held there has stopped attacks and led to arrests.

"The real problem is not Guantanamo Bay," Rumsfeld said. "The problem is that, to a large extent, we are in unexplored territory with this unconventional and complex struggle against extremism. Traditional doctrines covering criminals and military prisoners do not apply well enough."

Rumsfeld's remarks came on the heels of suggestions from some Democrats and Republicans in Congress, as well as former President Jimmy Carter and human rights groups, that the United States close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. Most of those held there were captured in Afghanistan and sent to Cuba in hopes they would provide information about al-Qaida. Some have been held for three years without being charged with any crime.

Recent allegations of prisoner abuse, as well as instances in which U.S. interrogators and guards desecrated the Quran, the Muslim holy book, have drawn questions about the role of the facility and whether its reputation is hurting U.S. efforts to fight terrorism.

Several senators, including Republicans Mel Martinez of Florida and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, have suggested that the Bush administration consider closing Guantanamo.

"How much do you get out of having that facility there?" Martinez asked over the weekend.

An Amnesty International official recently called Guantanamo "the gulag of our times," a reference to Soviet-era labor camps where inmates were held indefinitely and often perished.

That characterization drew a sharp denial from President Bush and Rumsfeld. It has been followed by a more organized campaign to defend Guantanamo and the role it plays in the war on terror.

"The track record there is on the whole pretty good," Vice President Dick Cheney told a National Press Club audience Monday. He told Fox News: "The important thing to understand is that the people that are at Guantanamo are bad people. I mean, these are terrorists for the most part."

Rumsfeld said yesterday that as a result of intelligence gathered at Guantanamo, 22 suspects allegedly plotting terrorist attacks have been detained and 20 bodyguards of Osama bin Laden identified.

"The detention facility at Guantanamo Bay was established for the simple reason that the United States needed a safe and secure location to detain and interrogate enemy combatants," Rumsfeld said. "It was the best option available."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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