WASHINGTON—A key ally of the Bush administration and staunch supporter of the war in Iraq said Sunday that failing to close the Guantanamo Bay prison would compromise the administration's efforts to fight a global war on terror.
The assessment from Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Prime Minister of Denmark, came the day after the first reported suicides of detainees at the post-Sept. 11 prison camp and followed Rasmussen's trip to Camp David with President Bush.
In an interview with CNN, Rasmussen said keeping prisoners behind bars "without legal proceedings" contradicts U.S. principles.
"It would be to the benefit of our cause and our fight for freedom, and against terrorism if the facilities at Guantanamo were closed down," said Rasmussen, whose small country has proved a strong defender of the war in Iraq and who last week became the first foreign leader in two years to spend time with Bush at the presidential retreat in Maryland.
The suicides of the two Saudi men and another from Yemen early Saturday at the remote island prison have sparked a fresh round of calls from around the globe to close the prison, which now houses nearly 500 detainees—some of whom have been held for more than four and a half years without charges or court hearings.
Human rights groups and a U.N. committee have denounced conditions at the camp and a lawyers group for detainees said the Bush administration is to blame for the deaths of the men, who according to military officials hung themselves with bed sheets and clothing.
"For all the suicide attempts and that this has finally happened, the death of these people lies squarely at the steps of the White House," said Barbara Olshansky, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which plans a press conference in Washington Monday to detail complaints that military officials have withheld access to medical care and lawyers in an effort to isolate the detainees.
According to military officials, at least 23 of those being held at the camp have tried 41 times to commit suicide. Olshansky's group said the suicides reflect the "desperation" the men at the camp feel.
Military officials suggested Saturday that the men coordinated the suicides in hopes of gaining international condemnation of the United States.
Following a meeting Friday with Rasmussen during which the prime minister raised questions about Guantanamo, Bush said he told Rasmussen he'd like to close the camp and is working with countries to send back some of the men.
But Bush said others need to be tried in court because "there are some that, if put out on the streets, would create grave harm to American citizens and other citizens of the world."
Republican Sen. Arlen Specter Sunday criticized the administration for holding the detainees without trials.
"Those people have to be tried," said Specter, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. Bush has said he is waiting for a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on whether the tribunals are constitutional, but Specter said the wait means "limbo and that creates a very difficult situation." The court is expected to issue its ruling by month's end.
Specter, who last summer suggested he'd launch an investigation into reported abuses of terror suspects at the camp, noted Sunday that some prisoners are being held on "the flimsiest sort of hearsay."
Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed said the camp should be closed "as quickly as possible," but noted that "as the president suggested, there are some very ruthless, very fanatical terrorists that are in our custody and we just can't turn them loose."
"There has to be a good process that balances need to keep these people off the street with the need to find out who in fact is a terrorist and that hasn't been done yet by the administration," Reed said. "As long as Guantanamo exists, it's a source of international attention and concern and these type of incidents will provoke further condemnation around the world."
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Anders Fogh Rasmussen
Need to map