13 February 2004
Prosper Says Progress Being Made to Resolve Detainees' Status
More than 90 cases resolved, war crimes ambassador says
By Jacquelyn S. Porth
Washington File Security Affairs Writer
Washington -- The U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes says the process of detaining suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists at a U.S. military base in Cuba for the past two years represents an effective collaboration in the war against terrorism between the United Stats and the four dozen countries whose nationals are in being held.
Ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper told journalists at the Washington-based Foreign Press Center February 13 that the enemy combatants, who were captured on the battlefield and are being under the auspices of the laws of war, are being treated humanely while their future status is being determined. Detainees receive full medical care, three meals daily, and opportunities for exercise and prayer.
By continuing to hold enemy combatants at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, the ambassador said, interrogators have been able to learn more about al-Qaeda operations and have in some cases been able to prevent additional terrorist attacks.
Prosper said progress has been made toward resolving some of the cases of individuals being held; they come from more than 40 countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and elsewhere. "All countries know who is present" at the base, he said, and their families should know they are there as a result of visits by Red Cross officials.
The United States has invited nations who have nationals in custody to take part in the process of reviewing their cases, to visit the detainees at the base, or to help by providing information about the individuals that might clarifying their status, according to Prosper. "It has been an effective effort of collaboration" as part of the global war on terrorism, he said, and 92 of the 650 cases have been resolved.
In some cases, a detainee has been transferred to his homeland for further investigation, detention or prosecution, the ambassador said. He cited a recent example of a Spanish detainee sent back to Spain because there was no reason to hold him any longer. Prosper predicted that there would be more cases of individuals being transferred back home for further action or direct release.
Those individuals who remain at Guantanamo Bay, he said, are being held because they pose a significant threat in the ongoing war on terrorism. Asked if the individuals might be held indefinitely, Prosper said they would be held until the conflict is over. Those who were captured and sent to Cuba, he said, were all caught committing "various acts of violence."
The detainees do not have access to legal counsel now because the laws of war allow for ongoing detention as long as conflict continues, Prosper said. Asked to cite specific laws of war by which the detainees are being held, the ambassador pointed to the Geneva and Hague conventions. Asked about the possible duration of the war, he said: "Let's hope this war on terrorism doesn't last a lifetime."
Prosper noted that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had announced in Miami February 13 that a new review board will be established to look annually at whether long term detainees should be released transferred or continue to be held.
Many investigations are reaching a stage now that a significant number of individuals will likely be transferred back home, Prosper said, if understandings can be worked out with their home governments. He said such an understanding has been reached with Russia, although he left the details and timing to be announced by the Russians.
Prosper was asked why some juveniles as young as 13 were held for long periods of time. He said they may have been held a little longer because it was in their best interest not to be returned to an environment where they might be pressed into unwilling service as child soldiers again.
Asked about the possible release of some British detainees, the ambassador said discussions with the United Kingdom about the status of the nine individuals are continuing.
Asked when military commissions might begin to hear the cases of some of the detainees, Prosper said he expected action in the near future for some cases. As cases move onto a legal track, he said, detainees will have access to legal counsel. The intent is to move ahead as quickly and efficiently as possible, he said.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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