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American Forces Press Service

Myers Calls Guantanamo Torture Reports 'Absolutely Irresponsible'

By Petty Officer 3rd Class John R. Guardiano, USN
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 29, 2005 The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff took strong exception today to recent media reports of systemic torture and abuse of prisoners at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The International Committee of the Red Cross "has been at Guantanamo since day one," Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers told Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday." "It is essentially a model facility."

Myers noted that the United States spends $2.5 million annually just to ensure that detainees have a proper Muslim-approved diet.

"We've passed out 1,600 Korans in 13 different languages. We've gone to extraordinary lengths to treat people humanely and in accordance with the Geneva Conventions," Myers told Bob Schieffer on the CBS News program "Face the Nation." "We get good marks for the way we take care of people."

And yet, Schieffer said, "100 detainees have died in U.S. custody. Why did that happen?"

Myers said it's important to look at the issue in the proper context, and that a close examination of investigative data shows that prisoner abuse "is not systemic. It is not the policy of this government, obviously."

The U.S. military has had about 68,000 detainees in custody in Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan, Myers said. There have been 325 investigations of alleged mistreatment, 100 of which have been documented. Some investigations are still pending.

Myers said that in the 100 cases where mistreatment has been substantiated, U.S. military personnel have been disciplined -- sometimes quite seriously by court martial. There has been a range of punishments, depending on the severity of the crime, he explained.

Moreover, not all detainee deaths have occurred because of mistreatment. Myers noted that "some people have died from natural causes," and every instance of abuse was brought to light by U.S. military personnel. "We want to treat people humanely," he said.

The number of incidents is "very small compared to the population of detainees that we've handled," Myers told Wallace.

The chairman called allegations of torture at Guantanamo false and "absolutely irresponsible."

Myers disagreed with contentions made this week by Amnesty International. The human rights group this week said "the U.S. government is a leading purveyor and practitioner of this odious human rights violation." The group also described Guantanamo as "the Gulag of our time." Former Soviet slave labor camps where millions of people died were known as the Gulag.

Myers said Amnesty International is seriously misusing the term Gulag and misapplying it to Guantanamo. "I think I'd ask them to go look up the definition of Gulag as it is commonly understood," he said.

Nonetheless, Wallace observed, allegations of torture and abuse at Guantanamo have sparked widespread media coverage and worldwide protests by disaffected Muslims. "What or who do you think is driving these demonstrations around the world?" he asked.

Myers said that some protests were premeditated provocations -- "planned before the Koran story came out in a magazine."

The Koran story is a reference to a recent allegation in Newsweek magazine that U.S. military personnel flushed a Koran down the toilet. Newsweek later retracted the story. The U.S. military investigated the charge and reported this week that there have been five instances in which the Koran was mishandled. Three of those errors were intentional, and none involved flushing the Koran down the toilet.

Myers noted "instructions for handling the Koran (at Guantanamo Bay) are very detailed."

"I think what contributes to this ... is sometimes the relish on some people's part to play up what I consider to be a very minor piece of this whole effort -- and I don't know why they do that," he said. "I don't know why they relish focusing on this."

Myers said that real outrage ought to be directed at the terrorists who are beheading and killing innocent men, women and children.

He mentioned specifically the murder of Sergio Vieira de Mello, who had headed up the United Nations mission in Iraq; the slaying of Margaret Hassan, "who spent essentially her entire life caring for Iraqi children"; and the beheading of a Japanese worker in Iraq.

All of these innocents, Myers told Schieffer, were killed by "savage, mass-murdering people who will stop at nothing to promote their ideology and their view of the world."

The chairman did acknowledge that there is a real debate to be had about Guantanamo, and it is: "How do you handle people who aren't part of a nation-state effort that are picked up on the battlefield?"

If you release them or let them return to their home countries, he explained, they will revert to their evil and violent ways. "These are the (type of) people that took four airplanes and drove them into three buildings on Sept. 11," Myers said.

"And we struggle of course because this is a different kind of struggle, a different kind of war; we struggle with how to handle them," he said. "But we've always handled them humanely and with the dignity that they should be accorded."

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