LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Detainees being held at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on suspicion of connections to terrorism enjoy conditions better than many prisons in the United States, Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee said Sunday.
While the government's handling of Guantanamo detainees has come to symbolize "what's gone wrong" in the fight against terrorism, the former Arkansas governor said, it's better to err on the side of protecting the American people.
The former Arkansas governor, who has visited Guantanamo, said Arkansas prisoners most likely would prefer Guantanamo to incarceration in Arkansas.
"I can tell you most of our prisoners would love to be in a facility more like Guantanamo and less like the state prisons that people are in in the United States," Huckabee said on a cable news network.
"It's (Guantanamo) more symbolic than it is a substantive issue because people perceive of mistreatment when in fact there are extraordinary means being taken to make sure these detainees are being given really every consideration," he said.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has said Guantanamo should be closed and others have criticized the federal government for holding suspects indefinitely and apparently without evidence. Huckabee said he understands these concerns.
"But I tell you if we let somebody out and it turns out that they come and fly an airliner into one of our skyscrapers, we're going to be asking how come we didn't stop them, we had them detained," he said. "If we're going to make a mistake right now, let's make it on the side of protecting the American people."
Also in the television interview, Huckabee suggested he might change his mind about competing in the Iowa straw poll.
He said that for now, he intends to compete. But "if the front-runners aren't going to play, we all have to start assessing the impact and importance and what it would look like if we were to win it," he said.
Leading GOP candidates Rudy Giuliani and John McCain said last week they would skip the straw poll. That would leave only former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney among the top-tier candidates planning to participate in what has been a traditional test of early strength.
Lesser-known candidates such as Huckabee, Sen. Sam Brownback and Rep. Tom Tancredo said they would participate in the August straw poll and on Friday challenged Romney to a series of Iowa debates.
McCain and Giuliani said they still would compete in Iowa's caucuses, which begin the presidential nominating season. McCain was surprised to learn that no candidate has won the caucuses after skipping the straw poll.
"I didn't know that was the case," he said in an interview broadcast Sunday.