Sat, Jul 26, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Guantanamo inmates `cooperative'

AP , GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA

Terrorist suspects have become more compliant and are offering up many more important intelligence tips, says the US Army general who commands the prison where preparations are under way for expected military tribunals.

In an exclusive interview, Major General Geoffrey Miller said that three-fourths of the 660 or so detainees have confessed to some involvement in terrorism. Many have turned on former friends and colleagues, he added.

Miller said detainees are giving up information in "incentive-based interrogations." Rewards include more recreation time, extra food rations to keep in their cells, or a move to the prison's medium-security facility.

"We have a large number of detainees who have been very cooperative describing their actions, either terrorist actions or in support of terrorism -- more than 75 percent" of them, Miller said Wednesday.

Some tips have led to more arrests, others revealed terrorist recruiting techniques, he said.

"In February we were able to get 35 `high value' -- the highest value -- intelligence [pieces] ... In June we had more than 225," Miller said.

Interrogators do about 300 interviews each week, he said.

The prisoners' statements, which Miller said have been oral, could be used as evidence before the secret tribunals, unlike in the US.

The prison's location at this US naval base at the eastern end of Cuba puts the detainees out of the jurisdiction of American courts and constitutional protections, a situation that has been criticized by lawyers and human rights groups as a violation of the detainees' rights.

The prisoners, all suspected of ties to the al-Qaeda terrorist network or Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime, range from a member of Bahrain's royal family to some juveniles and many low-level foot soldiers.

None have been allowed to meet with attorneys.

The US government has been criticized for designating the detainees as unlawful combatants rather than prisoners of war, and critics are urging Washington to ensure any tribunals are fair.

"The obstacles will be many, and they will be litigated," said Michael Ratner of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which is helping represent an Australian detainee.

Senator Jeff Bingaman pushed for Congress to force the Bush administration to be more accountable and reveal its intentions toward the detainees, but the measure failed.

"It's an embarrassment for us to be going ahead with proceedings that go against our own Constitution," Bingaman said. "One of the ways the rest of the world is going to judge us is how we deal with these detainees and what legal process we follow."

Although crimes have been spelled out, no detainees have been charged since the detentions began after the war in Afghanistan, and there are still no sentencing guidelines.

Also in question is whether detainees from 42 countries will get equal treatment. US officials said this week that two Britons and an Australian among the first six detainees designated to go before tribunals would not face the death penalty. Nothing has been said about the other three, reportedly from Pakistan, Sudan and Yemen.

"I think it underscores the lack of any clear policy that the United States government has with respect to the detainees," said Tom Wilner, a lawyer for 12 Kuwaiti detainees. "The ones who get to go before the military commissions may actually turn out to be the lucky ones. But what happens to the rest?"

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