WASHINGTON – Terror suspects being held at Guantanamo Bay (search) are 'bad people" and there are good reasons why they're still being detained, Vice President Dick Cheney told FOX News in an interview to be aired at 9 p.m. EDT Monday night.
Although some Republicans are now calling for the naval base to be closed in order to avoid further media scrutiny, suspected terrorists will continue to be held there, Cheney said in an interview with Sean Hannity, co-host of FOX News Channel's "Hannity & Colmes."
"The important thing here to understand is that the people that are at Guantanamo are bad people," the vice president said. "I mean, these are terrorists for the most part. These are people that were captured in the battlefield of Afghanistan or rounded up as part of the Al Qaeda (search) network."
The White House, meanwhile, said Monday that all options remain open about Guantanamo Bay's future.
"We should never limit our options," said White House press secretary Scott McClellan.
Human rights activists and some lawmakers — mostly Democrats — want the prison closed, highlighting allegations of torture and abuse of detainees. President Bush has said his administration is "exploring all alternatives" for detaining the 540 prisoners, some of whom have been held for more than three years without charge.
"We've already screened the detainees there and released a number, sent them back to their home countries," Cheney said in the interview, taped Friday. "But what's left is hard core."
Some Republican lawmakers say problems over the prison itself and allegations of mistreatment there should cause the administration to consider closing the facility.
Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., in a cable news interview Sunday cited Guantanamo as one reason the U.S. is "losing the image war around the world."
Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., said Friday that Guantanamo has "become an icon for bad stories and at some point you wonder the cost-benefit ratio."
"How much do you get out of having that facility there? Is it serving all the purposes you thought it would serve when initially you began it, or can this be done some other way a little better?"
While Martinez has not called for the facility to be closed, the lawmaker said it's not a bad idea to look into the issue of shutting the facility. Martinez has, in the past, said prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are treated better there than those in Florida's Orange County jail, when he was mayor there years ago.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter said on "FOX News Sunday" that despite the whirlwind of media reports, prisoners at Guantanamo are actually treated very well.
"For Sunday, they're going to be having — let me see — orange glazed chicken, fresh fruit grupe, steamed peas and mushrooms, rice pilaf — another form of torture for the hijackers. We treat them very well," the California Republican said, referring to the detention center's menu over the weekend.
"If you go back to Sunday, it looks like it's honey-baked — or lemon-baked fish as an entree. And if you look at the food and you also look at the list that has been prepared for the Armed Services Committee which lists abuses of the — a way that you can abuse a prisoner, feeding them the food that we feed our soldiers, that is, the MREs, which is the new C-rations, is considered actually to be a form of abuse, something probably the manufacturers of C-rations or the new rations don't agree with."
Hunter added: "But the point is, we treat these people very well. We supply every one of them with the Koran. We supply them with oil. We supply them with prayer beads. Five times a day on the prison system, we do the call to prayer with arrows pointing in the direction of mecca and assist them in their prayer ritual."
Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch, said he thinks conditions at the detention center can be improved without shutting it down.
"It's a legal black hole, a place to which no law applies. Now, you can fix those problems without shutting down the camp, and that's what I hope the administration does," Malinowski told "FOX News Sunday."
"But if you don't shut down the camp, more and more people are going to be calling for the closure of Guantanamo, not because they're concerned about the detainees but because they're concerned about winning the war on terror."
In a statement Sunday, the Defense Department said it "does not wish to hold detainees longer than necessary, and effective processes are in place to regularly review the status of enemy combatants."
The Senate Judiciary Committee plans a hearing on the issue Wednesday.
Pentagon: 'Vast Majority' of Detainees Are Released
Time magazine reported Sunday on an 84-page document detailing the Guantanamo interrogation of one detainee, Mohamed al-Qahtani (search), who was captured during the war in Afghanistan.
It was learned later that he had tried to enter the United States in August 2001, but was turned away by an immigration agent at the Orlando, Fla., airport. Mohamed Atta (search), ringleader of the Sept. 11 hijackers, was in the airport at the same time, officials have said.
Military intelligence officials at Guantanamo got permission to use intensive interrogation techniques on two prisoners, including al-Qahtani, who were deemed to be important Al Qaeda figures, the commander of U.S. Southern Command has said.
Time said interrogators used such techniques as dripping water on al-Qahtani's head; strip-searching him and making him stand nude; and depriving him of sleep. At one point, after receiving fluid intravenously because he was dehydrated, al-Qahtani was told to urinate in his pants by interrogators who refused his request to use the bathroom so they could continue with their questioning, according to the account.
The Defense Department said in response that the interrogation of al-Qahtani "was guided by a very detailed plan and conducted by trained professionals motivated by a desire to gain actionable intelligence, to include information that might prevent additional attacks on America."
"The interrogation of Kahtani has enabled the Department of Defense to gain a clear picture of Kahtani's strong connection to Al Qaeda leadership to include usama Bin Laden," an agency statement said.
It added that al-Qahtani provided valuable information on the logistics of the Sept. 11 attacks and how Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden evaded capture by U.S. forces.
"The Department of Defense does not wish to hold detainees longer than necessary and effective processes are in place to regularly review the status of enemy combatants," the Pentagon said, noting that the "vast majority" of detainees that have been held in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo have been released and there are only approximately 520 detainees in custody in Guantanamo now.
But "while more than 200 detainees have departed Guantanamo, detainee releases or transfers are not without risks. There have been approximately a dozen former detainees who were released from Guantanamo and have since taken part in anti-coalition activities," the Pentagon said.
Cheney: Dean 'Over the Top'
On another topic, Cheney said Democratic National Committee leader Howard Dean is "over the top," adding that the party chairman is "not the kind of individual you want to have representing your political party."
"I've never been able to understand his appeal. Maybe his mother loved him, but I've never met anybody who does. He's never won anything, as best I can tell," Cheney said in the interview.
In recent weeks, Dean has described the GOP as "pretty much a white, Christian party" and said many Republicans have "never made an honest living." Republican leaders have called on him to apologize, and even some Democrats have distanced themselves from his remarks.
"So far, I think he's probably helped us more than he has them," Cheney said. "That's not the kind of individual you want to have representing your political party."
The vice president added: "I really think Howard Dean's over the top. And more important ... I think many of his fellow Democrats feel the same way."
Karen Finney, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee, objected to Cheney's characterization of Dean.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.