WASHINGTON – The Pentagon sent more Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners to its high-security prison — and some back to Pakistan from Afghanistan — as the Bush administration said it was still sorting out what to do with suspects in the war on terrorism.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Sunday defended the idea of trying terrorist suspects by military tribunal and the treatment they are getting in detention. His statements followed a week of rising international concern over conditions under which prisoners are being held.
Rumsfeld spoke as 34 more detainees were sent to the makeshift U.S. prison at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, including six Algerians captured in Bosnia. That brings to 144 the number in custody there.
Thirty other detainees were returned to Pakistan from Afghanistan.
The CIA, FBI and other U.S. agencies have been working to interrogate the thousands of prisoners captured by American troops, Afghan fighters and other allies to decide which have useful intelligence, which might be tried and so on.
Officials also are trying to write rules for the tribunals that might judge suspects.
``We've been fashioning exactly what the rules and procedures might be, and we're not yet quite ready to announce them,'' Rumsfeld said Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press.
President Bush authorized establishment of military tribunals, but so far no one has been assigned to go before one and none has been set up.
The United States calls the prisoners ``battlefield detainees'' rather that prisoners of war with assigned legal rights. Under the Geneva Convention, POWs would have to be tried by the same courts and procedures as American soldiers. They could be tried for war crimes through courts-martial or civilian courts, but not by tribunals.
Some British officials, rights groups and others also are taking a close look at how prisoners are being treated, particularly those held in open-air cells in Guantanamo. Objections include the size of the cells, 6 by 8 feet, as well as the practice of shaving the prisoners.
The detainees also haven't seen lawyers and haven't been charged. U.S. authorities have not said how long they might be held.
``We have a just criminal system in the United States and people do get treated right,'' Rumsfeld said. ``And I think that any suggestion to the contrary is basically coming from people who are not well-informed.''
He was commenting about prisoners in general after being asked why the lawyer retained for John Walker Lindh by his parents had not been allowed to see the American Taliban fighter during Lindh's nearly two months of detention by American troops.
Rumsfeld said Lindh never asked for an attorney. Attorney General John Ashcroft has said he waived his right to a lawyer before speaking to interrogators both orally and in writing.
Rumsfeld also said the tribunals are a good idea. ``There are distinctive things about this conflict that suggest that it may very well be a useful way of achieving ... a just decision,'' he said.
There has been no declaration of war, officials contend as they argue against pressure to label the detainees POWs. Also, the fighters don't belong to a national army. Officials are thinking of having the United States try some while sending others to their home countries on condition their governments will punish them.
The six Algerians were arrested in Bosnia three months ago after U.S. intelligence informed the local police they were planning to attack Western facilities in Bosnia. Bosnia's Supreme Court ordered their release for lack of evidence, but Bosnian authorities handed them over to U.S. officials anyway.
The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights also had criticized the men's detention without charges or evidence.