WASHINGTON – An American senator who toured the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Tuesday said it was a "model facility" and reports of poor conditions there are exaggerated.
But two British members of the European Parliament and a U.S. congressman who joined Sen. Bob Bennett on the tour Monday said they were troubled by the facility, which houses about 460 suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.
Arlene McCarthy, one of the British officials, said she thinks the prison should be closed, the prisoners there tried in the criminal justice system and that nations should work together to fight terrorism.
"People see this as an injustice," she said of Guantanamo. "They see this as a slur on America's good record in terms of democracy and human rights."
Bennett, chairman of the Transatlantic Policy Network, a U.S. and European group that promotes security and economic growth, took a five-hour tour of the camp with Democratic Rep. Dennis Cardoza of California, McCarthy, and her Parliament colleague James Elles.
"The takeaway I had from it was how dangerous these people are, and how essential it is that they be held," said Bennett, a Utah Republican. He added that he agrees with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the prison should stay open.
"It's very clear from the intelligence operations that these are leaders of Al Qaeda," Bennett said. "They all pretend to be goatherders and cooks and knew nothing. Those who are still held there — and over 200 have been released — are very dangerous individuals and, in the war on terror, it is essential that they continue to be held."
The group's five-hour tour came days after a key U.N. panel said the indefinite detention of terror suspects at Guantanamo violates the world's ban on torture and that the facility should be closed.
Rice and other U.S. officials defended the U.S. policy over the weekend. Rice said she would be "delighted" to close Guantanamo but could not until the U.S. settles the fate of the suspected terrorists detained there.
Many of the detainees have been held at Guantanamo for four years without charges. President George W. Bush has said he is waiting for a Supreme Court ruling on whether inmates can face military tribunals before he considers whether to close the facility.
Cardoza said he is concerned about the cost of the facility, which he said will exceed $200,000 per detainee this fiscal year.