GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba – More than half the 650 detainees at Guantanamo are getting rewards for good behavior, the U.S. military said Wednesday during Eid-al-Adha celebrations.
They said only about 6 percent have been deemed uncooperative under the system of rewards and penalties that began late last year.
"It's important for us to set the environment so they understand through cooperation and good behavior they can have the hope of eventually getting transferred back to their native countries," Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller said in an interview Tuesday.
About 58 percent of the detainees are getting one or more of 23 rewards. It might be an extra blanket, a book or a soccer ball, officials said. On Wednesday, it was an extra serving of rice and lentils for the feast of Eid-al-Adha, a Muslim holiday.
However the detainees were not allowed to take part in another Eid-al-Adha ritual -- communal prayers.
"It's a violation of their religious rights," said Faiz Rehman, spokesman for the American Muslim Council in Washington.
Army Capt. Yousef Yee, the camp's Muslim chaplain, said the military is under no religious obligation to the detainees.
The United States is holding about 650 people from 41 countries who it suspects are linked to the fallen Taliban regime in Afghanistan or the Al Qaeda terror network.
For now they are confined to solitary cells, but some will be moved into a medium-security facility next month, officials said.
The detainees are considered as enemy combatants by the U.S. government. They have not been formally charged and are undergoing interrogations without legal counsel.
"We believe the rewards and penalties program has helped us increase the amount and quality of the information," Miller said.
Two detainees were reportedly allowed to make 45-minute phone calls to families in Saudi Arabia, according to Dr. Najeeb Al Nauimi, a Qatari attorney who hopes to have the men returned home.
Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Barbara Burfeind declined to confirm the calls or say whether they were rewards.
A spokesman for Amnesty International, Alistair Hodgett, questioned whether the rewards system was connected to a wave of suicide attempts, with five detainees trying to hang themselves in the past month. One still is hospitalized in serious condition after a Jan. 16 attempt.
"Is this a change in simply one direction of improving standards, or is there also a corresponding reduction in standards for those who do not cooperate?" Hodgett asked.
Military officials say penalties amount to an absence of rewards.