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Guest Contributor
Donald Rumsfeld

Mr. Rumsfeld is Secretary of Defense for the United States.

The Problem Is Not Guantanamo
Remarks prior to Tuesday's DoD news briefing...

[Donald H. Rumsfeld] 6/15/05

In the years leading up to September 11th, the United States dealt with terrorism primarily as a law enforcement issue. Terrorists who had already killed Americans were investigated, they were arrested, and then they were put on trial, and then they were punished. When terrorists committed an act of war against our country on September 11th, killing 3,000 people, the United States and our allies responded by using military force against al Qaeda and its Taliban sponsors in Afghanistan. In this new era, it became clear that prosecuting terrorists after they strike was an inadequate approach, particularly given the lethal threats posed by violent extremists.

During the operations since September 11th, the military has apprehended thousands of enemy combatants, and several hundred were determined to be particularly dangerous and valuable from an intelligence perspective. There was no existing set of procedures or facilities to detain these enemies in Afghanistan or elsewhere. After extensive discussions with his senior advisers, the president decided that they were not entitled for formal prisoner of war status under the Geneva Conventions and that they were certainly not criminal defendants in the traditional law enforcement sense. Indeed, faced with this new situation, the president ordered that detained combatants be treated humanely under the laws of war. 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. It was the best option available.

The Department of Defense, working through the National Security Council interagency process, established procedures that would provide appropriate legal process to these detainees, procedures that go beyond what is required even under the Geneva Conventions. These included combatant status review tribunals to confirm that, in fact, each individual is, in fact, an unlawful enemy combatant. Every detainee currently at Guantanamo has received such a hearing. As a result, some 38 individuals were released.

Military commissions, trials with full representation by defense counsel for those suspected of committing war crimes. The commissions have been temporarily suspended pending further review by the U.S. federal court system.

And third, administrative review boards that annually assess the remaining potential threat and intelligence value represented by each detainee. These boards are designed to reexamine detainees regularly in order to identify detainees who can be released.

Our goal as a country is to detain as few people as is possible and is safe. We prefer to return them to their countries of origin if the country is capable and willing to manage them in an appropriate way. In some countries, Iraq and Afghanistan, we have begun a process of trying to help them develop the proper facilities and the proper trained forces to manage these detainees. Other countries have not satisfied the U.S. government, as yet, that they will treat their nationals humanely, were they to be transferred to their countries. Still others don't have laws that permit them to detain individuals of this sort, and they're in the process of passing such laws.

One of these detained terrorists at Guantanamo is a man, called Mohamed al-Kahtani, believed to be the 20th hijacker on September 11th. He has direct ties to al Qaeda's top leadership including Osama bin Laden. While at Guantanamo, Kahtani and other detainees have provided valuable information, including insights into al Qaeda planning for September 11th, including recruiting and logistics; the identities and detailed information of 20 of Osama bin Laden's bodyguards; information leading to the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the September 11th attacks; and information allowing foreign police to detain 22 suspected terrorists plotting attacks earlier this year.

Detainees are sent to Guantanamo only after a proper screening process that identifies these prisoners who pose a threat to the United States or who have intelligence value. The kind of people held at Guantanamo include: terrorist trainers, bomb-makers, extremist recruiters and financiers, bodyguards of Osama bin Laden, and would-be suicide bombers. They are not common car thieves. They are believed to be determined killers.

Arguably, no detention facility in the history of warfare has been more transparent or received more scrutiny than Guantanamo. Last year the department declassified highly sensitive memorandum on interrogation techniques. Unfortunately, they were documents that are useful to terrorist operatives, and we posted them on the Internet specifically to set the record straight about U.S. policies and practices.

There have been nearly 400 separate media visits to Guantanamo Bay by more than 1,000 journalists. Additionally, some 180 congressional representatives have visited the facility.

We provide continuous access to the International Committee of the Red Cross, whose representatives meet privately with the detainees.

Allegations of abuse at Guantanamo, as at any other U.S. military facility, have been thoroughly investigated. Any wrongdoing is -- wrongdoers are being held accountable. The U.S. military has instituted numerous reforms of the conduct of detainee operations, with a renewed emphasis on standards and training.

The U.S. military has also gone to unprecedented lengths to respect the religious sensibilities of these enemies of civil society, including the issuance of detailed regulations governing the handling of the Koran and arranging schedules for detainees around the five daily calls for prayer required by the Muslim faith. In fact, at Guantanamo, the military spends more per meal for detainees to meet their religious dietary requirements than it spends per rations for U.S. troops.

Since September 11th, the military has released tens of thousands of detainees, including some 200 from Guantanamo. Regrettably, we now know that some of those detainees that were released from Guantanamo have again taken up arms against the United States and our allies, and are again -- were again attempting to kill innocent men, women and children. The U.S. government will continue to transfer others to their countries of origin after negotiating appropriate agreements to ensure their humane and -- humane treatment.

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. But as long as there remains a need to keep terrorists from striking again, a facility will continue to be needed. The U.S. taxpayers have invested over $100 million in military construction in the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, and it is spending something like an average of $90 (million) to $95 million a year to operate that facility to its highest standards.

The real problem is not Guantanamo Bay. 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.

As the president has 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. CRO

Remarks by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, to Council on Foreign Relations New York City.





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