Guantanamo prisoners may get family visits

WASHINGTON — Pentagon officials are discussing with the Red Cross whether to allow family members to visit prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, The Washington Post reported Wednesday, saying the proposal had stirred discontent in Congress.

So unhappy was Rep. Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, the newspaper reported, that the California Republican considered inserting language in a Defense funding bill to block Red Cross-sponsored visits.

The International Committee of the Red Cross already arranges for telephone calls and video-conferencing for some of the 172 captives at Guantánamo. They all have access to mail via the ICRC as well.

Moreover, it was not immediately clear which of the captives would be able to benefit from the offer. They come from about 20 nations, some on the State Department’s sponsors-of-terror list, others roiled by unrest stemming from protests for democracy.

The suburban Maryland family of Majid Khan, held on suspicion of ties to al Qaeda, is probably the closest in proximity. But the Pakistani-born former U.S. resident is held in Camp 7, off limits to anybody but troops, lawyers and members of Congress with high-level security clearances. The Pentagon even considers the location of Camp 7 to be a national-security secret, and won’t say where exactly on the 45-square-mile base it built the lock-up or for how much money.

The next closest family members are likely the Toronto mother and siblings of confessed killer Omar Khadr, now 24 but who was a teen when he killed, serving the last year of a sentence at Guantánamo. But Canadian officials have stripped his family of travel documents.

About half the captives at Guantánamo come from Yemen, and some are cleared for release once the U.S. wins assurances that the government stabilizes enough to monitor and rehabilitate them. The Pentagon says the Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula already has former Guantánamo detainees directing it.

At the Pentagon, Army Lt. Col. Tanya Bradsher declined to entertain questions on the Post article.

The newspaper called the discussions “another tacit acknowledgment” that President Barack Obama is unlikely to close the detention center “anytime in the foreseeable future.”

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