London, Asharq Al-Awsat- The US Department of Defense deputy director for political development and international issues in the Office of Detainee Affairs, Bryan Del Monte, stated that that the USA plans to close Guantanamo prison in Cuba where hundreds of “terrorists” are being held but that this will not take place quickly. He explained: “We do not have to close Guantanamo now as there are hundreds of terrorists who will seek to kill US nationals as soon as they are freed.” Del Monte declined to set a date for the definitive closure of the camp, adding, “The detainees are dangerous people,” and described them as “the enemy fighters who might resume violent and terrorist operations.” Del Monte, however, pointed out that US President George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and a number of US politicians have said they plan to close the camp.
At a meeting attended by representatives of the Arab press in London, 11 May 2006, Del Monte said, “We do not want to be the “jailers of the world,” and revealed that negotiations are under way with the home countries of the Al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and other Arab countries, to secure the return of these detainees. Del Monte explained, “It is important that the countries to which these detainees belong assume responsibility for them and at the same time we must ensure that that they will not be tortured once they return to their countries.”
In response to a question posed by Asharq al-Awsat, Del Monte said that there are young men in Guantanamo Bay and that it was unfortunate that Al-Qaeda had used them. Three young men were arrested in the battlefield, including the Libyan Umar al-Dughays, who lived in Britain; Omar Khadr al-Kindi, the son of Al-Qaeda financier and of Egyptian origin; and Chadian Muhammad al-Qarni, born in Medina. Del Monte said that those in charge of the Guantanamo detention camp provide the three youngsters with lessons every morning in Mathematics, English, Sciences, and other subjects for their mental and psychological needs in addition to teaching physical fitness and sports. He pointed out that the three youngsters are in a camp where moderate security measures are exercised and that they are isolated from the other prisoners.
Del Monte, who is also responsible for policy development of detention, said that he had recently arrived from Geneva where he answered questions from the UN Committee Against Torture and that he had stressed that the prisoners are not being tortured and that no violations were being committed. He added that the prisoners are being treated with respect and are punished only in accordance with military law. He noted that the detainees who are being held in Guantanamo were arrested in the battlefield. Del Monte states, “The United States holds 548 detainees from 44 different nationalities at the military prison in Guantanamo, and most of them were arrested during the US military campaign on Afghanistan in 2001.”
A report that the United Nations issued recently said that the treatment of the prisoners at times reached the level of torture. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan last Thursday had supported a UN report calling for the closure of the US camp in Cuba, saying he hopes that this step will be carried out as soon as possible. A UN report had called on the US Administration to either try all those held in the Guantanamo camp or release them all at once. The United Nations also called on Washington to close the camp without any delay in a 54-page report that was noted for its sharp criticism of the detention program that the US Administration applies in the camp. The US Administration is also facing an official questioning by the United Nations on its abidance by the international ban on torture for the first time since it declared war on “terrorism.”
Bryan Del Monte, in reply to Asharq Al-Awsat, said that there is no torture or violation taking place in the Guantanamo prison camp. He said that the guards and the officials at Guantanamo are fully trained and US officials are banned from carrying out torture under any circumstances.
Del Monte revealed that there are no Muslim preachers from the US military establishment at Guantanamo Bay. He added that those who are detained from Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Guantanamo know better about their religion than any external imam and that the detainees have chosen an imam from amongst them at the Delta camp for moral guidance. They same process took place at the “fourth” camp and at the “Laguna” camp in Cuba.
To demonstrate that the prisoners enjoy freedom of worship, Del Monte said that the detainees themselves had decided the beginning and end of the holy month of Ramadan according to their religious beliefs without any interference from the prison administration. Its administration also provided detainees with meals for Iftar (breaking of fast) and Suhur (pre-dawn meal before fasting), prayer carpets, copies of the Quran and the direction of the Qiblah (direction towards which Muslims pray.)
Del Monte said that one of the tasks of the military command at Guantanamo is to allow the Al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners to enjoy their rights to worship. The detainees listen to the call for prayer five times a day from a recorded tape, which is transmitted through loudspeakers placed above the towers of the camp. The detainees at the camp can eat with one another and spend their evenings together within its walls. The prison administration also provided the detainees with sports shoes to play basketball after a volleyball court and football field were established within the walls of the fourth camp. As for Camp Delta, stringent security measures are adopted there as “enemy fighters” from Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are being held there. Del Monte refused to reveal where the most prominent Al-Qaeda prisoners who were arrested in Pakistan are being held, in view of the security measures that are applied. These prisoners include Abu Zubaydah, an Al-Qaeda leader; Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the third man of Bin Laden’s organization, Ramzi Bin al Shiba, the coordinator of the 11 September attacks, and Abu Farraj al Libbi.
On reports issued by former detainees of Guantanamo that state that torture is being exercised at the camp and violations are being committed, Del Monte replied to Asharq al-Awsat’s question saying, “We did not torture anyone in Guantanamo. The Al Qaeda prisoners appear to have learnt chapters from the Al-Jihad al-Kubra (Greater Jihad) by heart that calls on them to lie and justify these lies when necessary or during interrogation.” Del Monte added that once they are released and face the cameras, television, and journalists, they fabricate stories about violations and how they were badly treated, which are false.
Al-Jihad al-Kubra, which the US investigators call the “Manchester Documents,” and which fundamentalists refer to as “military studies in jihad against despots,” is made up of 18 chapters. British anti-terrorism police found the book in the house of Abu-Anas al-Libi in Manchester. Abu-Anas al-Libi was accused of blowing up the two U.S embassies in 1998 in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. This encyclopedia contains details for the fighters on how to use explosives, and prepare and use poison. It also includes advice on how to lie to investigators and to claim that they were tortured during interrogation. The last chapter discusses how Al-Qaeda detainees should deal with investigators if they are arrested.
Del Monte denied that the Pentagon had sent detainees from Guantanamo to Jordan and Egypt to obtain information. His comments came in response to claims that Mamdouh Habib, an Australian of Egyptian origin was sent to Turrah prison in Egypt so that officials there would forcibly extract information from him that might help investigators.