The Pentagon has concluded that the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay meets the standards for humane treatment of detainees established in the Geneva Convention accords.
In a report for President Obama on conditions at Guantanamo, the Pentagon recommended some changes -- mainly providing some of the most troublesome inmates with more group recreation and opportunities for prayer -- said an administration official who read the report and spoke on condition of anonymity, citing its confidential nature.
The lengthy report was done by a top Navy official, Adm. Patrick M. Walsh, in response to Obama’s Jan. 22 executive order to close the U.S. military detention facility in Cuba within a year.
The report, which has not officially been released, “has been completed and will be delivered to the White House in accordance with the president’s executive order,” said a Pentagon spokesman, Cmdr. Jeffrey D. Gordon.
Some of the most dangerous inmates at the naval base have been prohibited from meeting with other prisoners for prayer or socialization; they are kept in their cells for as long as 23 hours a day. That includes self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other self-styled Al Qaeda leaders charged with overseeing the 9/11 attacks, who would be likely to be affected by the proposed reforms.
Obama has criticized the detention center, and human rights advocates have condemned it as violating the Geneva Convention, a series of international rules established to protect the rights of those detained by other countries, including in times of war.
The administration official said the report’s primary conclusions supported the Department of Defense’s long-standing contention that Guantanamo was in compliance with the global convention, including Article 3, which requires the humane treatment of prisoners taken in unconventional armed conflicts, such as the war on terrorism.
“The bottom line is that the report found that Guantanamo is in compliance with the Geneva conventions, which we have maintained for several years. So the report essentially validated our procedures and processes,” the official said.
Human rights groups are planning to take issue with Walsh’s finding that Guantanamo complies with Geneva requirements.
“We strongly disagree with the government’s basic conclusion that the conditions at Guantanamo comport with international standards for humane treatment,” said Pardiss Kebriaei, a staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents detainees. “That assessment is difficult to digest when our clients in Camps 5 and 6 are physically and psychologically breaking down because their conditions and isolation have become so unbearable.”
Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday appointed a senior Justice Department official, Matthew Olsen, to head an interagency task force looking into how to deal with the more than 200 Guantanamo detainees after the prison closes.
Meanwhile, the administration said Friday it was not ready to extend legal rights to the prisoners held at the U.S. air base in Bagram, Afghanistan. An administration lawyer told a judge reviewing the issue that the government, for now, “adheres to the previously articulated position” of the Bush administration.
Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the prisoners held at Guantanamo had the right to challenge the case against them in a federal court. The justices said these prisoners had been held for years in a prison that is, for all practical purposes, part of U.S. territory.
It was not clear, however, whether this ruling was limited to Guantanamo detainees or could be extended to other long-term prisoners in the war against terrorism.
Lawyers who represent several men held at the Bagram prison said their clients were entitled to legal rights as well.
Bush administration lawyers disagreed. They said that the U.S. did not exercise sovereign control in Afghanistan, and that the prisoners were held in a “theater of war.”
When the new administration took power, U.S. District Judge John Bates gave officials a month to decide whether they wanted to change policy.
David Savage in our Washington bureau contributed to this report.