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Homeland Security

American Forces Press Service

DoD Constantly Striving to Improve Detainee Operations

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

NAVAL STATION GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, June 27, 2005 In its quest to provide the fairest treatment possible for enemy combatants detained here, the Defense Department is constantly fine-tuning the practices and procedures in place and introducing new ones as appropriate, according to DoD's detainee affairs chief.

Matthew C. Waxman, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, told military analysts traveling here June 24 that the United States has no illusions of knowing all the answers as it carries this unprecedented mission.

As a result, the military is "constantly adapting and improving" its operations, he said.

During the past several months, DoD has been engaged in "a rigorous and methodical review" of 442 recommended reforms, Waxman said.

These recommendations, raised during the dozen major investigations, assessments and reviews about interrogation and detention operations conducted departmentwide, run the gamut, Waxman said. They range from clarifying the legal and policy framework involving detainee detentions to changing the rules for handling the Koran or the kinds of door locks used on cells "and everything in between," he said.

The DoD Detainee Senior Leadership Oversight Council, with representatives from throughout the department involved in some aspect of detainee operations, meets regularly to review these recommendations, Waxman said.

"Not all (of the recommendations) will be implemented," he said. Some will be dismissed because they no longer apply, and in some cases, a better solution to a problem raised may already have been identified. "But it is important that all of them be reviewed systematically, methodically and thoroughly," Waxman said.

And before any single recommendation can be considered "closed" - meaning the fix has been made or is considered unnecessary or that a better solution has been identified - all three co-chairs of the Detainee Operations Oversight Council must sign off on it, Waxman said.

The co-chairs are Waxman, who represents the secretary of defense and the policy community; Army Maj. Gen. Don Ryder, Army provost marshal general; and Army Brig. Gen. Bob Caslen, director of the Joint Staff's Detainee Affairs Division.

While considering ways to improve detainee operations, the Defense Department already has made a variety of sweeping changes, officials pointed out.

Interrogation and detention operations are now standardized across the theaters, servicemembers get training in how to accommodate detainees' religious and cultural practices, and DoD has invested millions of dollars to improve facilities at Guantanamo Bay, they said.

Several other new initiatives involve establishing clear oversight responsibility for various aspects of detainee operations and checks and balances for ensuring they are carried out according to DoD policy, officials said.

Three basic policies guide detainee operations during the war on terror, Waxman explained. First, the detainees at Guantanamo Bay are enemy combatants who waged war against the United States and can be held until hostilities end. Second, the detainees are not members of an organized military and do not qualify for prisoner-of-war status under the Geneva Conventions.

And finally, at the direction of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and President Bush, detainees will be treated "humanely, in a way consistent with military necessity and in accordance with the principles of the Geneva Conventions," Waxman said.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. government had no choice but to wage war on al Qaeda, and as a result, to quickly develop a policy regarding enemy combatants captured, Waxman said.

"We put the major building blocks of our policy in place, and since then, we have continued to improve and refine it," he said. "And we will continue to do so."

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