San Diego Union Tribune

June 14, 2005

Hunter says menus from Guantanamo a proof of good care

By Otto Kreisher and Toby Eckert

WASHINGTON – House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter is using menus to defend U.S. conduct at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility.

In a TV interview show Sunday and a Capitol news conference Monday, Hunter, R-El Cajon, brandished the menus for the Guantanamo detainees' meals as a partial rebuttal to allegations that suspected terrorists and anti-U.S. fighters there were being mistreated.

For nearly every question that reporters asked about aggressive interrogations and lack of judicial process involving the 500-plus detainees, Hunter's answers were "honey glazed chicken" or "lemon baked fish," served with whole-wheat pita, various vegetables and fruit.

"The inmates in Guantanamo have never eaten better, they've never been treated better and they've never been more comfortable in their lives. . . . And the idea that somehow we are torturing people in Guantanamo is absolutely not true, unless you consider having to eat chicken three times a week is torture," Hunter said at the news conference.

Hunter passed out copies of daily menus for the detainees and displayed two typical meals. He said the detainees are "fed better than thousands and thousands of our troops in the field."

He also noted that the detainees are provided copies of the Koran, prayer rugs, beads and oil, the call to prayer is broadcast five times a day and the cells have signs pointing toward Mecca, the direction observant Muslims face when praying.

Hunter repeatedly noted that the men at Guantanamo have killed or tried to kill "thousands of Americans," and include "Osama bin Ladin's bodyguards" and "the 20th hijacker," Mohamed al-Qahtani, and yet "they are treated exceptionally well."

Hunter rejected the increasing calls by members of Congress, including some Republicans, to close Guantanamo because of the image of abuse associated with it.

"It would be wrong to close Guantanamo down based on a fiction" of abuse, he said.

Hunter also ruled out holding hearings on the treatment of the detainees, as Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., intends to do.

But Rep. Jane Harman of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said it was time for Congress or an independent commission to take a deeper look into the treatment of detainees.

Harman said she visited Guantanamo Bay with congressional delegations three times in 2002 and 2003, including the period during which some of the prisoner mistreatment allegedly was taking place.

"Congressional oversight did not work. We asked all the right questions; we did not get the right answers," she said at a hearing of the 9/11 Public Discourse Project.

The project is a successor to the independent 9/11 commission created by Congress. Harman noted that one of the commission's recommendations for combating terrorism was for the United States to set "an example of moral leadership in the world, committed to treat people humanely (and) abide by the rule of law."

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