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House Democrats vow to look into conditions at Guantanamo

WASHINGTON—The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives plans to scrutinize the Bush administration's handling of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba with an eye toward closing the facility, a top Democrat said Thursday.

"The new Democratic majority has every intention of conducting vigorous oversight on these issues and getting answers on the administration's detention practices," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said. "The administration has said it hopes to close the facility at Guantanamo, an objective that I share."

In a statement, Hoyer also said that reports of physical and mental abuse of prisoners "continue to emerge" and charged that they haven't been sufficiently investigated.

"Such reports, when coupled with news of `extraordinary renditions' and CIA secret prisons, have harmed our nation's credibility and reputation," Hoyer said. "This is unacceptable, and it is dangerous."

Bush has defended the camp as critical to the war on terror, and he's said that it should remain in use until the detainees there have been returned home or tried in military courts.

But Hoyer said that "grave questions about our treatment of detainees" have been repeatedly raised over the past five years, and that not one detainee at the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba has been convicted of any crime.

"Of the almost 400 detainees remaining in Guantanamo, administration officials now say only 60 to 80 will be brought to trial, and the rest presumably held indefinitely," Hoyer said.

"As the world's leading advocate for democracy, the rule of law and respect for basic human rights, the United States must demonstrate an unflinching willingness to scrutinize our own conduct—however painful that may be," he said.

Hoyer issued his statement days after Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said that he'd examine the program in his capacity as chairman of the defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, which has a grip on the Pentagon's purse strings.

Hoyer defeated Murtha in a contest for majority leader.

When Republicans were in charge of Congress, the House and Senate rarely held hearings on Guantanamo, and when they did lawmakers focused largely on abuse allegations in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

Hoyer issued his statement on a day that widespread demonstrations around the globe marked the fifth anniversary of the date when the Guantanamo prison camp opened.

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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