US 'will send most detainees home'
The Times From Katty Kay in Washington
Wednesday January 23, 2002
THE Bush Administration said last night that it expected most of the detainees held at the military base in Cuba to be sent home after being interrogated about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda leadership.
Amid renewed criticism from its European allies, Washington disclosed that it was working to improve conditions at Guantanamo Bay.
"We're trying to ameliorate the situation in Guantanamo as fast as we can construct a new facility," Richard Armitage, the Deputy Secretary of State, told The Times. "I can't force them to build any faster."
Mr Armitage rejected claims that there was a double standard for treating the American prisoner John Walker - who was being flown home to civilian custody last night - and foreign detainees.
In a rare public difference with the US, the German Government joined the European Union and British politicians in criticising American treatment of the prisoners.
Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister, rejected President Bush's assertion that the detainees were not prisoners of war but illegal combatants, which the Administration claims deprives them of the protection of international law. "Regarding those under arrest in Guantanamo, we are of the view that, regardless of any later definition of their status, they are to be treated as prisoners of war," Herr Fischer said.
In a further sign of strain within the coalition, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the British Ambassador in Moscow to protest about a meeting at the Foreign Office with a Chechen separatist envoy. The meeting with Akhmed Zakayev, a representative of Aslan Maskhadov, the Chechen rebel leader, took place on Friday, despite an appeal by the Russian Embassy in London. "The meeting is taken by the Russian side as an action contradicting the essence of co-operation and partnership between our countries, including the sphere of joint actions against international terrorism," the Foreign Ministry said.
In Washington, Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, gave an hour-long briefing, dominated by questions on the conditions in Guantanamo Bay. He said that the US military was not in the business of being a long-term jailer and many prisoners would be sent home once they had been interrogated.
"We now have people from probably two or three handfuls of countries, different countries. And my first choice would be for many of those to end up back in their countries, to be processed through their systems, whatever they may be," Mr Rumsfeld said. "The most important thing from our standpoint is gathering intelligence."
Mr Rumsfeld said some of the detainees would be kept by the US and tried in the American criminal justice system. He also expected some would face special military tribunals.
He said that one prisoner had bitten his guards and several had vowed to kill an American before leaving. Questioned about the debate in the House of Commons on the prisoners' treatment, he said: "It's amazing the insight that parliamentarians can gain from 5,000 miles away."
A group of human rights lawyers in Los Angeles yesterday filed the first court challenge to the detention of the suspects in Guantanamo, demanding that the US Government clarify charges againt the men. The petition was headed by Ramsey Clark, a former US Attorney-General.