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Rumsfeld, senators: Detainees treated well

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and four U.S. senators who toured the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Sunday said they are satisfied with the treatment of Afghan war detainees housed there.

"I have absolutely full confidence in the way the detainees are being handled and treated," Rumsfeld said. "I've spent a lot of time talking to the people there about it."

The troops at Guantanamo Bay guarding the detainees have "been doing a first-rate job. I came down to say thank you," Rumsfeld said.

Traveling with Rumsfeld were U.S. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas; Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii; Ted Stevens, R-Alaska; and Dianne Feinstein, D-California. Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also joined the group, which visited the base only briefly before heading back to the United States.

Hutchison said the delegation was able to tour the detention facility, dubbed Camp X-Ray, and talk to troops guarding the detainees.

The U.S. has suspended the flow of detainees to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, until additional detention cells are built. CNN's Bob Franken reports (January 24)

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Speaking with CNN after her return, Hutchison characterized the facility as "plain" and open-air but said she believes U.S. military officials are treating the detainees "very, very well." They are getting medical care, room to exercise and are allowed to talk to each other, she said, adding that a Muslim cleric has been brought in to conduct religious services.

Rumsfeld and other Bush administration senior officials have yet to decide the disposition of the detainees, who are housed in what critics have called outdoor "cages" with a roof, concrete floor and chain-link fence serving as walls.

'They went around like terrorists'

Rumsfeld again addressed criticisms from some human rights groups who maintain the former Taliban and al Qaeda fighters should be classified as prisoners of war instead of "unlawful combatants," a status that exempts them from certain requirements under the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

"The al Qaeda are so obviously part of a terrorist network as opposed to being part of any army," he said. "They didn't go around with uniforms, with their weapons in public display, with insignia, and behave in a manner that an army behaves in. They went around like terrorists."

U.S. officials said the detainees at Guantanamo and in Afghanistan are being treated humanely, consistent with the principles of the Geneva Conventions. However, they are not provided some protections required for prisoners of war, such as not being required to cooperate with interrogators.

Hutchison said she also believes that the detainees' treatment fulfills the spirit of the Geneva Conventions though they should not be considered as prisoners of war.

"Clearly, they are not part of an organized army," she said. "They are not legitimate prisoners of war."

Some rules affecting the 158 captives have been eased. Military officials said they are being allowed to regrow their facial hair, which was shaved before their transfer to the base this month.

Officials also said that some detainees have assumed leadership roles and appear to be scrutinizing security at the facility.

"They are checking out their environment and determining what their opportunities and their options are," Rumsfeld said. "Our view is, we are not going to give them any."

Brig. Gen. Michael Lehnert, who is in charge of the detention camp, agreed with Rumsfeld's assessment.

"We are seeing that some leaders are beginning to emerge," he said. "We have indications that many have received training and that they are observing actions such as security procedures.

"We've seen some attempts to secret away materials or to coordinate activities," Lehnert said. "Given their background and training, this is something that we have anticipated. Many appear disciplined and very patient."

CNN Correspondent John Zarrella contributed to this report.


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