San Diego Union Tribune

June 17, 2005

Guantanamo critics are invited to go see conditions firsthand

By Otto Kreisher

WASHINGTON – Two days after Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., likened the U.S. military's conduct at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the brutal practices of the Nazi death camps and Josef Stalin's gulags, the Pentagon spokesman yesterday said such comments "reflect a real ignorance" of conditions at the detention facility for terrorism suspects.

The White House spokesman had an even harsher reaction, calling Durbin's statement on the Senate floor Tuesday "reprehensible."

Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita did not refer to Durbin by name. "We invite more members to go down to Guantanamo and see what's going on because what's going on down there is not the way it's being described by certain members of Congress," he said.

DiRita said the military would facilitate legislators' visits to Guantanamo to improve their understanding of the detention facility. "Comments that are being made up on Capitol Hill about what's happening at Guantanamo reflect a real ignorance of what's really going on down there," DiRita said.

Durbin press aide Joe Shoemaker said the senator has never visited Guantanamo.

In his floor statement, Durbin quoted from an FBI agent's letter criticizing some of the harsh interrogation techniques used on terrorist suspects at Guantanamo. Durbin added that those actions could have been done "by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime – Pol Pot or others – that had no concern for human beings."

Shoemaker said the comments were intended to compare "torture" at Guantanamo to torture during the Nazi regime, not to equate Americans at the base to the Nazis and similar groups, the Associated Press reported.

Other critics have decried the indefinite detention of Guantanamo detainees, whom the United States has denied rights accorded under the Geneva Conventions to prisoners of war. The prison was called "the gulag of our times" in a recent Amnesty International report.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan responded directly to a question about Durbin's comments and said: "I think the senator's remarks are reprehensible."

"It's a real disservice to our men and women in uniform who adhere to high standards and uphold our values and our laws," McClellan said. "To compare the way our military treats detainees with the Soviet gulags, the Nazi concentration camps, and Pol Pot's (Cambodian) regime is simply reprehensible."

Durbin's statement also came under sharp attack by the powerful Veterans of Foreign Wars, which has 2.4 million members, including tens of thousands in Illinois.

"The senator was totally out of line for even thinking such thoughts, and we demand he apologize to every man and woman who has ever worn the uniform of our country, and to their families," said John Furgess, the VFW's commander-in-chief. "Our soldiers put the needs of others first, just like generations of Americans before them," said Furgess, a Vietnam veteran.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department announced that a Halliburton Co. unit will build a $30 million detention facility and security fence at Guantanamo.

An air-conditioned two-story prison, known as Detention Camp No. 6, will be built at Guantanamo to house 220 men. It will include exercise areas, medical and dental spaces as well as a security control room, the contract announcement said.

The contract announcement did not specify whether the prison would hold foreign terror suspects.

The project is to be carried out by Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root Services of Arlington, Va.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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