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Rumsfeld defends Gitmo facility


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A detainee rests inside his cell in the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.
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Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says Gitmo is necessary.

Vice President Dick Cheney defends the Guantanamo Bay facility.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Amid calls for the United States' Guantanamo Bay prison camp to be overhauled or even shut down, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has defended the facility.

Calling it arguably the most transparent, most scrutinized detention facility in military history, Rumsfeld said "numerous reforms" had been implemented regarding soldier conduct toward detainees.

"Arguably, no detention facility in the history of warfare has been more transparent or received more scrutiny than Guantanamo," Rumsfeld said during a Defense Department briefing.

"The United States government, let alone the U.S. military, does not want to be in the position of holding suspected terrorists any longer than is absolutely necessary," he said.

"But as long as there remains a need to keep terrorists from striking again, a facility (to detain them) will be necessary."

Rumsfeld said Guantanamo Bay itself does not pose a problem.

"The problem is that, to a large extent, we are in unexplored territory with this unconventional and complex struggle against extremism," he said.

"Traditional doctrines covering criminals and military prisoners do not apply well enough."

The Guantanamo Bay facility has drawn fire in recent weeks.

After allegations of mistreatment of prisoners there, the Bush administration investigated and admitted U.S. personnel mishandled the Quran in four incidents, and the London-based human rights group Amnesty International released a stinging report on the facility.

A top Democratic senator, Joseph Biden of Delaware, said earlier this month it had become "the greatest propaganda tool" for terrorists and should be shut down.

The prison camp is located at a U.S. Navy base on Cuba. It holds about 540 suspected terrorists.

"There's no doubt there is a problem there as far as America's image is concerned," U.S. Senator John McCain said on Tuesday.

"I believe the issue is more related to disposition of the prisoners than Guantanamo Bay itself."

He said the judicial process should move forward "so that these individuals will be brought to trial for any crime they're accused of, rather than residing in the Guantanamo facility in perpetuity."

U.S. Senator Bill Frist, in the news conference with McCain, said the facility should not be shut down.

"Whatever the issues are, the legal issues, they have to be addressed in a current fashion, but let's address those. Let's not cut and run because of image problems. If there are reforms that need to be taken, we will do it."

Rumsfeld said the U.S. military has gone to "unprecedented" lengths to respect "the religious sensibilities of these enemies of civil society," including issuing rules on the handling of the Quran and arranging detainees' schedules around the five daily calls for prayer in the Muslim faith.

"In fact, at Guantanamo, the military spends more per meal for detainees to meet their religious dietary requirements than it spends for rations for U.S. troops," he said.

"We are always looking for ways to improve our procedures. And, of course, we have been looking for better suggestions as to how to manage detainees who pose a lethal threat to the civilized world. And we have already implemented dozens of reforms."


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