US public unmoved by camp conditions
Some think the prisoners are being treated too well
Tim Franks in Washington
BBC News Online
Friday, 18 January, 2002
There are many ways to gauge what is on American minds. One of the most seductive is there 24 hours a day, always ready with an opinion. Alan Nathan appears on Radio America. He calls himself the militant moderate. "This is the oasis for those who have an aversion to the left-right, black-white, two-dimensional approach," he says opening his show. On his latest show, his guest was Paul Vallely, a retired army general and Fox News military analyst. They discussed the enforced haircuts of the supposed al Qaeda prisoners. "They have expressed how humiliating it is for them," Mr Nathan said. "Well, that's just too bad," said Mr Vallely. "Humiliating them is not our goal, but it is a perk," Mr Nathan said.
Voices of dissent
There are voices of dissent, voices on the editorial pages of the broadsheets and voices from civil rights groups. They argue that blindfolds and flimsily protected shelters are not good enough. Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch said that Americans should not allow the rawness of 11 September to contaminate their values. He said that Americans are angry and upset. "They have every right to be, but this is not just about having sympathy for a particular group of detainees," he said. "It's about upholding a set of standards that allow the United States to complain when its own citizens face similar conditions," he added.
At Champs Bar and Restaurant in eastern Virginia, there are few such concerns. The manager Scott is a man with short hair, broad shoulders and clear views. "I think they are the scum of the earth, and they need to be treated whatever way we need to treat them. They killed our people," he said. He is unconcerned that they are being held in cells open to the elements. "I think they should just pile them inside a gigantic tanker truck and close the door, punch a couple holes in the top for air," he said. And as for the staff and customers, they agree. One woman said, "I'm more of a feminist so as the treatment they brought upon the women in their country, I'm all for wiping them out." Another woman said, "They are getting things like fruit bars, granola bars, getting a blanket to sleep on. I really believe that they are being treated as well as we can possibly treat them, maybe too good."
US defends treatment
But the Bush administration and the US military defends its treatment of the prisoners, saying that they are being treated humanely and that every precaution must be taken because the prisoners are extremely dangerous. In an interview with the BBC, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, "These are the very hardest core terrorists." He pointed to the prison uprising near Mazar-e-Sharif, which left hundreds dead. In a briefing, Mr Rumsfeld underscored the threat the prisoners pose. "There are a number, down in Guantanamo Bay who, every time anyone walks by, threaten to kill Americans the first chance they get; these are quite dangerous people." President Bush is satisfied with the treatment of the prisoners, said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, adding, "It is humane; it is respectful." Some people, particularly here in Washington, do express concern about Camp X-Ray and the legal limbo the detainees are in. But most Americans it seems share the opinion of the administration that these people are dangerous and evil and that a bit of wind and rain hardly counts.