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10 October 2003

White House Defends Guantanamo Policy

White House Report, Oct. 10: Enemy combatants, Iraq, Cuba

Asked to comment on the reported statement by a senior official of the International Committee of the Red Cross that there should be a time limit for deciding on the charges against prisoners detained at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said:

"First of all, let's remember these individuals are enemy combatants. These individuals are terrorists or supporters of terrorism, and we are [at] war on terrorism. And the reasons for detaining enemy combatants in the first place, during a war, is to gather intelligence and make sure that these enemy combatants don't return to help our enemies plot attacks or carry out attacks on the United States."

"This is about protecting the American people. We are at war on terrorism, that war continues, he said. "And we are going to make sure we do everything we can to protect America in this war on terrorism. And part of that is detaining these enemy combatants, gathering intelligence, seeking to prevent future attacks that may be being plotted, that may be being planned against the United States."

McClellan disagreed with the suggestion of a reporter that the essence of the Red Cross charge was that those who are legitimate security threats are not being separated from those who are not. "[S]ome of those individuals," he said, "have been released and returned back to their country. And these individuals are being treated well, they're being treated in accordance with the standards of the Geneva Convention. But, again, we're talking about enemy combatants during a time of war, and the president of the United States is committed to doing everything we can to protect the American people from future attacks, and part of that is the information we're obtaining from these enemy combatants."

Christophe Girod, the top ICRC representative in Washington, told The New York Times in an interview published October 10 that holding the detainees in Guantanamo was unacceptable because they were being held for open-ended terms without legal process.

"One cannot keep these detainees in this pattern, this situation, indefinitely," he told the newspaper during an inspection tour of the facility, which houses more than 650 detainees the United States describes as "enemy combatants."


Asked how the White House can say it is making progress in Iraq when U.S. soldiers and others continue to be killed there, McClellan said:

"[K]eep in mind that we're talking about the central front in the war on terrorism. And, yes, there are people serving and sacrificing in this important cause. But look back to what the president has repeatedly said, what he said as recently as yesterday -- the more progress we make, the more desperate the Saddam hold-outs and foreign terrorists will become. They are desperate because of the progress we are making.

"When we succeed, when we prevail in this central front on the war on terrorism, we will have dealt a significant blow to our enemies. A free, stable and democratic Iraq will serve as an example for the Middle East, a very volatile region that has served as a breeding ground for terrorism. And so we are making important progress.

"And, yes, we mourn the loss of any life. The United States mourns the loss of any life. There are people serving and sacrificing in this cause, but it's an important cause. And the president will see it through because of what it means for making the world a better place and making America a more secure country."


President Bush, in a Rose Garden event October 10, announced that he was going to toughen enforcement of the existing U.S. travel restrictions to Cuba.

The president said "illegal tourism perpetuates the misery of the Cuban people" because "the government ... pays the workers a pittance in worthless pesos" and uses the tourists' "hard currency to prop up the dictator and his cronies."

Bush said he will strengthen "enforcement of those travel restrictions to Cuba that are already in place," including enforcement of laws regarding "those who travel to Cuba illegally through third countries and those who sail to Cuba on private vessels in violation of the embargo."

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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