WASHINGTON – Maryland lawmakers returned from a Friday trip to Guantanamo Bay convinced that Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees are being held under good conditions — often better than the U.S. soldiers who are guarding them.
Reps. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda, and Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, were part of a 17-member delegation that inspected the Cuban camp after human rights groups charged that detainees were being treated inhumanely.
“We should fulfill the Geneva Convention, and we are doing that,” said Morella, adding that the U.S. military is “treating the detainees in a humane manner.”
Photos that showed the detainees shackled and hooded were misleading and misinterpreted, said members of the bipartisan delegation. Gilchrest said the detainees are only shackled and handcuffed when they leave their cells. They can wash with soap and water daily, but shower and receive clean clothing once a week, he said.
They receive three meals a day, totaling 2,400 calories, and get regular medical attention, Morella said. Many are still being treated for wounds they received in fighting in Afghanistan.
The 158 detainees were captured in Afghanistan and identified as leaders of the Taliban or al-Qaeda movements there. They were taken to the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay for interrogation and will remain there until the United States is certain they will be prosecuted when they are returned to their home countries, Morella said.
The detainees are currently held in covered, open-air cells. A permanent, enclosed facility is being built nearby that will have better toilet facilities and a washbasin in each cell, Morella said.
She said the camp was very quiet Friday. Prisoners sat on the thin mats in their cells, but could talk to one another through the chain-link fence that divides each 8-foot-by-8-foot cubicle, she said. Many pray, some read, others talk. The congressmen even heard some laughter during their four-hour inspection visit.
“It was a quick trip, but I believe we saw everything we needed to see, and nothing was hidden from us,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.
Each of the detainees has a copy of the Koran in his own language. Since they come from 25 different countries there are chaplains and translators to communicate with each of them.
While the men’s hair and beards have been shaved, their hair is beginning to grow back and Morella said the general she spoke to is considering letting them grow out their beards.
Morella and Gilchrest both praised the soldiers for their professionalism in handling the detainees, who have an avowed hatred of Americans.
“It was a moving experience to see so many Taliban that wanted to kill Americans,” Gilchrest said.
“Our military personnel provide outstanding security for themselves and the detainees,” he added.
Morella said she is concerned about the conditions that soldiers at Guantanamo endure. They sleep in heavy khaki tents in the Cuban heat, wear full military uniforms and are often on their feet for more than 12 hours a day.
Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said one soldier summed it by saying, “If I were a prisoner of war, I could only beg and pray for the treatment we’re giving now.”