Top Navy official to review Guantanamo operations

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

By DANICA COTO, Associated Press Writer


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — 

The Pentagon said Tuesday it is sending a top Navy official to review operations at Guantanamo Bay even though it believes they already meet international standards.

The request comes as President Barack Obama seeks closure of the detention facility within one year.

"We take this tasking from the White House very seriously," Defense Department spokesman Geoff Morrell said. "That's why the secretary has asked a four-star flag officer to go down there and put fresh eyes on the situation."

Admiral Pat Walsh, vice chief of Naval Operations, is expected to complete a review within 30 days.

Obama has criticized the administration of former President George W. Bush for saying terrorism suspects aren't covered by standards set by the Geneva Conventions. Obama also has asked for a 120-day suspension in proceedings against 20 detainees.

Jennifer Daskal, senior counterterrorism counsel for Human Rights Watch, said the government should allow detainees more recreational time and provide them with books and other materials to keep their minds occupied.

"It's in everyone's interest to take steps to protect the mental health and well-being of those whom the U.S. will ultimately release," she said.

Daskal said the majority of detainees have been housed for years in cells with little or no natural light, spending up to 22 hours a day with extremely limited human interaction.

More than 500 men have been freed from Guantanamo since it opened seven years ago. Another 245 remain locked up. The military ordered a complete review of operations after three detainees hanged themselves in June 2006.

Defense attorney Navy Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Reyes said he hopes the review will include comments from a variety of people and agencies.

"This review is a great step forward," he said. "I believe and hope that it will go beyond an examination of the usual documents and officials."

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