London, Asharq Al-Awsat- In the ongoing war on terror, the United States was committed to treating detainees humanely and would draw lessons from past mistakes, according to Matthew Waxman, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Detainee Affairs.
Speaking to a number of Arab journalists at the US embassy in London, Waxman said al Qaeda prisoners had memorized chapter 18 from an encyclopedia on jihad (holy war) discovered at the Manchester home of Anas al Liby, a suspected terrorist wanted by the US.
He indicated agencies responsible detainee operations were reformed following the Abu Ghraib jail scandal in 2004 and reaffirmed the Pentagon”s vow that the abuse of detainees which had taken place in the Iraqi prison would not be repeated.
The war against al Qaeda and its supporters, the Defense Department official said, preceded the attacks on September 11, 2001, which killed an estimated 3000 people from 90 different nationalities. In effect, it was bin Laden who declared war on America in 1996 and attacked the US embassies in Nairobi and Darussalam in August 1998 and bombed the USS Cole destroyed in the Yemeni port in 2000 and before that, targeted a complex housing US military personnel in Khobar, Saudi Arabia in 1996.
Waxman revealed every detainee currently in US custody will be released as soon as the “enemy combatant” classification no longer applied to his case and would be transferred to a destination abroad, including his country of origin, as US policies stipulated.
The under secretary remarked that an administrative council was currently reexamining the cases of all detainees to determine whether they should stand trial in a military court for constituting a danger against the US and its allies and breaking the law.
He admitted improvements of US detention facilities have been overshadowed by the pictures of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, adding he visited Saudi Arabia last month and discussed freeing a number of Saudi citizens currently held in Guantanamo Bay.
Most of the 7000 detainees taken into US custody in Afghanistan and Iraq were still in jail, the defense official states.
Commenting on the ongoing hunger strike by prisoners at Camp Delta, Waxman refused to be drawn into a discussion of the reasons behind why 85 detainees were refusing food but indicated that some men were obsessed with publicity and wanted to attract attention to their cause. He added, “This is not the first time members of al Qaeda start a hunger strike. Those currently taking part are being fed artificially by tubes in the field hospital; their number are changing every day.”
Compared to previous year, Waxman stated, claims of prisoner mistreatment had dramatically decreased, with 200 soldiers already disciplined for behaving in an unacceptable manner with prisoners.
Waxman was appointed to his post in July 2004 to oversee detainee affairs within the US administration. He had acted as a liaison between the Defense Department and international organization including the international committee for the Red Cross.
“For the past decade, the US and its allies have been engaged in a fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban regime because they have targeted unarmed civilians and attacked our cities, financial centers and our military”, he said.
A graduate from the Yale University Law School in Connecticut, Waxman indicated, “The war on terror will continue. Doubters need only remember the terrorist attacks in Bali, Madrid, Riyadh, London, and Sharm al Sheikh, in addition to the crimes committed by [Abu Musab] al Zarqawi and his supporters in Iraq, and especially Ayman al Zawahiri’s recent announcement that al Qaeda was behind the London bombings on July 7th.”
“The US does not want to be the world’s warden”, he signaled.
The official revealed discussions were taken place with the governments of a number of al Qaeda and Taliban captives, as the US sought to return them to their countries of origin after a review of each individual case. “Of course, we are seeking assurances they will not be tortured or engage in any terrorist activities, especially against the US and its allies.”
Waxman revealed his government had contemplated transferring the detainees to a third country if guarantees were not forthcoming with one released detainee handed over to Spain, which is not his country of origin. A number of countries had expressed interest in received its citizens but would not provide any guarantees, the undersecretary added.
At present, the defense 500 detainees, from 36 countries, were held at Guantanamo Bay, in addition to 250 already released.
“At the start of the war on terror, President George W. Bush gave orders that all prisoners belonging to al Qaeda and the Taliban be treated humanely according to US commitments to the humane treatment of prisoners and the laws of armed conflict.”
He said the questioning of al Qaeda suspects concentrated on gathering information on future attacks, the financing of terrorist groups and the recruitment of new members. According to Waxman, “It is not in the US’s interest to detain enemy combatants for longer than is necessary.”
Among those jailed in Guantanamo were experts in terrorist training, bomb makers, former guards of bin Laden, al Qaeda recruiters, and terrorists who had planned to carry out suicide operations but were thwarted. The information obtained, Waxman added, had foiled terrorist attacks and saved innocent lives.
“We have gathered information on the structural organization of al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. We know the degree their members have infiltrated European countries and the United States. We are also aware al Qaeda tired to obtain weapons of mass destruction and how it has continues to use legitimate business dealings to cover for its terrorist activities,” he said. Guantanamo Bay, Waxman indicated, “is still providing the US government with invaluable intelligence which prevents future al Qaeda’s attacks.”
In the last eighteen month, after re-evaluating detention conditions, the Pentagon issued 400 recommendations to improve the lives of enemy combatants in US custody. “We have put most of these proposals in practice and distributed them to all relevant authorities. This reform is not only concerned with improving the treatment of prisoners but indicating to the international community that the US government will not permit detainees to be abused.”
He attacked the “rumors and false information” circulating on the conditions inside Guantanamo adding that anyone who read chapter 18 of the "Encyclopedia of Jihad", discovered in the Manchester home of the wanted al Qaeda operative al Liby would soon realize that terrorists are following its recommendations word for word.
The Encyclopedia advises, "If you are caught in the fight against the Crusaders, do not provide any information on your associates. Do not inform interrogators of your real name and always claim, if on trial, that you have been tortured and interrogated under duress.” Known as the Manchester document in US circles and the Encyclopedia of Jihad amongst Islamic militants, the encyclopedia is constituted of 18 separate chapters and was found by British anti-terrorist police at the residence of Abu Anas al Liby, suspected of involvement in the bombing of US embassies in East Africa in the summer of 1998.