WASHINGTON – A group of senators who traveled to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, this weekend to observe the conditions at the detention facility held separate news conferences on Capitol Hill Monday, but seemed to agree on one point — that the facility should not be shut down.
Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden (search) of Oregon and Ben Nelson (search) of Nebraska said that while they believe some kind of standard should be set for the status and treatment of the prisoners there, they did not observe anything in interrogation practices or conditions that would prompt them to agree with a call to shut the facility down.
"It is my opinion that closing the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay (search) would result in less accountability in the treatment of prisoners, not more," Wyden said. "The question we have to ask is who do we trust more to treat these prisoners humanely — Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt or the United States?"
"Under General Jay Hood's leadership, I'm convinced the mistakes of the past [are in] the past. ... I've concluded closing the base ... would only be a symbolic gesture and then [would] create the problem of where do we keep the detainees," Nelson added.
Critics, including Amnesty International, have condemned conditions there as inhumane and complained that some prisoners have been held for more than three years without criminal charges.
Sixteen U.S. House representatives toured the U.S. prison base on Saturday for the first time since recent harsh condemnation of detainees' treatment and renewed demands for closing the camp.
Wyden and Nelson, as well as other senators, also just returned from a three-day trip to Cuba that included a tour of the naval base and extensive meetings with top U.S. officials and rank-and-file soldiers and sailors. Wyden and Nelson also held a get-together with a top Cuban agriculture official, who heard their appeals to promote trade of cherries, peas and other crops grown in their states.
Wyden said that past practices he had heard about at Guantanamo, a.k.a. Gitmo, have been changed, and procedures and conditions at Camp Delta, where the prisoners are housed, offer the best commitment to human rights. He acknowledged that the prisoners at Guantanamo "are not your garden-variety criminal defendants.
"However, the most urgent task now is for Congress to articulate what reasons can justify holding these prisoners and for Congress to finally establish the precise legal status of these prisoners," Wyden said. "Just because it is a war doesn't mean there shouldn't be any concrete rules."
Also on the trip were Republican Sens. Jim Bunning (search) of Kentucky and Mike Crapo (search) of Idaho, both of whom went further than Wyden and Nelson and said not only are conditions acceptable at Guantanamo Bay, but that they want to "set the record straight" that prisoners are being treated in a way that's totally consistent with American values. They noted that the new facilities at Gitmo include air-conditioning, good meals, facilities for religious worship and "top-notch health care."
Prisoners have "everything to make them as comfortable as possible in detention," Bunning said.
"It's my conclusion that I don't think you would be able to find a detention facility where people were better treated ... the health care is better or equal to what our own troops get," added Crapo, who did say it might be useful to come up with some kind of new status for these prisoners. Crapo said the reason is not to ensure better treatment but only because it would set a universal understanding of their status.
Wyden and Nelson declined to offer specifics, but they said they hoped to work with Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter and other Republicans to draft language clarifying the rights and legal status of the more than 500 terror suspects being held at Guantanamo.
Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, scolded the GOP-run Congress earlier his month for not doing more to clarify the rights of detainees.
"It may be that it's too hot to handle for Congress, may be that it's too complex ... or it may be that Congress wants to sit back as we customarily do. But at any rate, Congress hasn't acted," Specter said.
FOX News' Julie Asher and The Associated Press contributed to this report.