WASHINGTON – Many of the terror suspects being held in Guantanamo Bay are close to Usama bin Laden (search) and, if given the chance, would rejoin the battlefield and try to kill Americans and other U.S. allies, some lawmakers argue.
Some even have, they said.
"The kind of people held at Guantanamo include terrorist trainers, bomb makers, extremist recruiters and financiers, bodyguards to Usama bin Laden and would-be suicide bombers — they're not common car thieves — theyr'e believed to be trained killers," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters during a Pentagon briefing Tuesday.
But Rumsfeld noted that administrative review boards annually annually assess the potential threat and intelligence value of each detainee for possible release.
"Our goal as a country is to detain as few people as is possible and is safe," he said. "We prefer to return them to their country or origin if the country is capable and willing to manage them in the appropriate way."
Rumsfeld's comments come as some lawmakers — mostly Democrats — are joining human rights groups' calls to close down the detention center.
"As long as there remains a need to keep terrorists from striking again, a facility will continue to be needed," Rumsfeld said.
He said U.S. taxpayers have already spent $100 million to build the facility, which he said is costing $90 million to $95 million a year to operate. "I don't know of any place [else] where we have infrastructure that's appropriate for this group of people," he added.
Most Republicans are siding with the Bush administration in its stance that the naval base is the right place to house those who may be the best sources of information but who also pose the biggest threat to the United States and its interests.
"I think it's very important we do try to get the message out about who these people are," Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, told FOX News on Tuesday. "They're recruiting people to kill Americans and we're trying to do everything to secure our country. And Guantanamo Bay (search) is a much better place than putting them on the shores of the United States."
She added: "We are getting information from them. One of these people tried to get on the airplane to fly into the World Trade Center. There are Al Qaeda operatives, there are bodyguards of Usama bin Laden in here … where are the standards of the people making these criticisms? We're trying to protect America and our allies — we're fighting the War on Terror."
In an interview on FOX News' "Hannity and Colmes," which aired Monday night, Vice President Dick Cheney said many of the detainees are "hard core."
"The important thing here to understand is that the people that are at Guantanamo are bad people … 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 network," he said.
Gitmo An 'Image Problem' for U.S.
Some lawmakers said Tuesday that the United States has a public relations problem when it comes to how it treats prisoners of war.
"Yes, there is an image challenge that we have there ... [but] let's address the fundamental issues, let's not cut and run because of image problems," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said Tuesday.
Added Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was a Vietnam POW: "There is no doubt there is a problem there that exists. But I believe the problem is more a problem related to the disposition of prisoners there ... I think the key to this is to move the judicial process forward so these individuals will be tried rather than reside there in perpetuity."
Former Democratic Louisiana Sen. Bennett Johnston Jr. told FOX News on Tuesday that America's image overseas and the need to protect Americans are both vital to winning the War on Terror.
"Guantanamo is a place, it's not a policy," Johnston said, adding that prisoners could be moved to a remote location like Oakdale, La. "There's no question it has hurt America's reputation very badly. Does that matter? Yes."
He added: "It's not a question of whether they've been really mistreated, it's a matter of whether we can change our image ... we cannot be regarded as people who are against Islam and that's what Gitmo has done, rightly or wrongly."
Whether closing the facility is the answer or not, politicians of all stripes want investigations into allegations that U.S. troops mistreated foreign terrorism suspects.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said the alleged abuse has undermined U.S. anti-terror policy but said it was crucial that Congress determine what occurred at Guantanamo before deciding to close it.
"Reform it, don't close it," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "It's hurting the war effort. The image of it is as a place where there's a lack of rule and lack of procedures."
But Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said "Guantanamo has not made our country safer ... The stain of Guantanamo has become the primary recruiting tool for our enemies."
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said: "My personal feeling is that Guantanamo is just a sign of the problems we're having. From the time of Abu Ghraib (search), this country has been embarrassed by many minds, humiliated ... and Guantanamo is just another series of problems that we have with the whole Iraq policy."
The Pentagon says the "vast majority" of detainees that have been held in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo have been released; about 520 detainees are currently at Guantanamo. But of the 234 who have been released, about 12 of them have since gone back to the battlefield.
"We now know that some of those detainees released from Guantanamo Bay have again taken up arms against the United States and our allies and again are attempting to kill men, women and children," Rumsfeld said Tuesday.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., planned a hearing Wednesday in the Judiciary Committee on detainee treatment at Guantanamo. Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., said he also would push for hearings in the House to sort through "innuendo and rumor."
"We need to look and see whether any of the allegations being levied are real," said Weldon, the No. 2 Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, which has held only one public hearing on prisoner treatment in the War on Terror (search). Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., wants a hearing to focus specifically on Guantanamo.
In the Senate, Democrats like Reid again called for an outside panel to review the abuse claims.
"The cloud will remain whether or not Guantanamo Bay is closed" without an independent investigation, said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.
Committee Republicans dismissed the complaints.
"We are adhering to high standards of freedom and justice," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. "If we've got a problem let's fix it. But I can't for the life of me think that we will gain respect around the world by closing this."
Meanwhile, Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., and 23 cosponsors on Tuesday introduced a bill to prevent detainee abuse.
"It's unacceptable that during the Abu Ghraib scandal, we learned more about abuse violations and human rights reports from the media than the Pentagon," Tauscher said in a statement. "In order to fix our dismal image in the Muslim world and prevent future incidents, we need to know about detainee abuse concerns as soon as they arise."
The bill mandates that the Pentagon share reports from the International Committee of the Red Cross and other human rights groups about the treatment of detainees at U.S. prisons with Congress within 15 days of their receipt.
The argument continued after Time magazine reported Sunday on an 84-page document detailing the interrogation of one detainee, Mohamed al-Qahtani (search), who was captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan and is suspected of being the so-called "20th hijacker" involved in the Sept. 11, 2001 (search), attacks.
The magazine 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. The Defense Department said the interrogation of the man with links to Al Qaeda and bin Laden "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 Defense Department added that al-Qahtani provided valuable information on the logistics of the Sept. 11 attacks and how bin Laden evaded capture by U.S. forces.
"We've got to find out for the benefit of our soldiers and the benefit of the people of Iraq what's going on over there … and if it's at night, it's at night," former Delaware Gov. Pete DuPont told FOX News.
He added that whether Guantanamo Bay stays open or prisoners are transferred elsewhere "is not the real issue."
"We're at war and when you're at war, interrogating prisoners of war is a very important thing — that's where you learn" information that saves lives, the Republican said. "I think people who are against the interrogation and against doing it at Gitmo are against the Iraq war in the first place."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.