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Debate flares over Guantanamo prison camp

Republican lawmakers joined Democrats Sunday in urging new debate over the policies and fate of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp for terrorist suspects, the same day Time magazine revealed details of an interrogation of a captive there who was forced to urinate on himself and bark like a dog.

"We need to look at this issue thoroughly, both in open and closed session," said Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Penn., chairman of the Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, speaking in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press."

The goal, Weldon said, would be to "come to a final determination as to whether or not this facility has, in fact, lost its viability."

On CNN, Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., also urged congressional intervention, saying the Bush administration has been vague about its plans for the camp and has provided incorrect information about what goes on there. Hagel, however, said he didn't know whether Guantanamo should be closed.

"This can't be indefinite. This can't be a situation where we hold them forever and ever and ever until they die of old age. What are our plans here?" Hagel said. "... It may well be to close Guantanamo Bay, if we have an alternative, would be the best thing for all of us."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also urged Congress and the administration to "come up with standard policies on detention and interrogation." But he said closing the camp would be an "overreaction."

"We need a place like Guantanamo Bay to house people we take off the battlefield in the war on terror, to interrogate them to get information to make us safer as a nation, and to hold them accountable," Graham said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

"Nobody is going to say move it to Florida, South Carolina, or Vermont, so I think Cuba is as good a place as any."

The debate over what to do about the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, where 520 terrorist suspects are currently held, intensified in the past week after Sen. Joseph Biden Jr., D-Del., argued that the Bush administration should shut down the base in Cuba because allegations of abuse there, true or not, had put Americans in jeopardy around the world.

Former President Jimmy Carter later urged that the camp be closed, and on Friday Sen. Mel Martinez, of Florida, who served in President Bush's first cabinet, became the first high profile Republican to say the administration should consider closing the facility.

On Wednesday, Bush said his administration is always looking for alternatives on what to do about the detainees, a position the White House reiterated Sunday.

"The president believes we should always be looking at all our options when it comes to how we best protect the American people. We should never limit our options," said White House spokesman David Almacy.

The topic dominated Sunday morning news programs after Time magazine published excerpts from a military interrogation log of Detainee 063—Saudi Mohammed al Kahtani,—who the Sept. 11 Commission said last year may have been the missing 20th hijacker in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Time said the log, which spans 84 pages and covers 50 days of interrogations starting in November 2002, shows interrogators refused to let Kahtani go to the bathroom, leaving him strapped to a chair with an intravenous drip to urinate on himself. They also taught him to "bark," "stay" and "come" like a dog, and forced him to stand nude, ostensibly to break his will to resist his American interrogators, Time said.

The Pentagon confirmed that the log was authentic. But in an unusual and lengthy defense Sunday, it defended the interrogation as giving the United States a "clear picture" of the captive's links to al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden.

Kahtani tried to enter the United States in August 2001, but was turned away by a suspicious immigration agent at the Orlando airport. He was later captured on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and taken to Guantanamo in February 2002.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a senior member of the Intelligence and Judiciary committees, ridiculed the tactics used against Kahtani at Guantanamo as ham-handed and ill-advised.

"I don't know what tree we're barking up or why we're doing this," she said on CNN, noting that there never has been evidence that the Sept. 11 hijackers knew what they would be asked to do before they entered the United States.

Congress has never held public hearings on the fate, financing or legal framework of the Pentagon's showcase prison camp for alleged terrorists, and rarely have members voiced concern about what went on there, with the exception of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a POW during the Vietnam war.

McCain wrote Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld expressing concern over the prisoners' state of legal limbo after a visit to the camp in December 2003. Graham and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., joined McCain on the tour and in the letter to Rumsfeld.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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