Guantanamo Bay camp offers better conditions than cave in Afghanistan

Posted: Wednesday, January 30, 2002

The scene on film, taken recently at the terrorist detainment camp at Guantanamo Bay naval base, is harrowing. Captives are shown in leg shackles and handcuffs, wearing blacked-out goggles. That, human rights groups insist, proved the United States was using psychological torture in violation of both U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions.

But appearances often are one thing, reality another.

It turns out the terrorists were arriving at the camp, and it's common to restrain suspects in transit. Goggles are unusual, but extra precaution seems justified when transporting some of the world's most dangerous terrorists.

Critics would have a stronger case if they complained about privacy. Captives are kept in chain link cells with only a roof to protect them from the elements, and the compound is lit up at night so guards can watch every move.

But al-Qaida members are extraordinarily dangerous. When captured in Afghanistan, some used smuggled weapons to kill an American CIA agent during an uprising -- and at least one prisoner has vowed to stage a similar revolt at Guantanamo. Extra precautions are needed while Americans question them about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and the details of planned attacks.

The captives have no legal rights. The U.S. Constitution doesn't apply outside of American soil, and they do not qualify for prisoner-of-war protection under international law because they weren't members of either the Afghan regular armed forces or a voluntary force wearing uniforms and carrying weapons openly.

Still, they are being provided warm showers, clean clothes and medical care. They get nutritious meals approved for consumption by Muslims. They not only are allowed to practice Islam, they get prayer mats and instructions on which way to kneel so they can pray toward Mecca.

Surely, that is a step up from shivering in filthy caves in Afghanistan.

-- The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville

Jan. 26

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