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Pentagon official: No Muslim clerics for detainees

From Barbara Starr
CNN Washington Bureau

Detainees at Guantanamo Bay in a March 2002 photo.
Detainees at Guantanamo Bay in a March 2002 photo.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. military no longer has a Muslim cleric at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, ministering to the religious needs of the more than 600 detainees there, and has no plans to provide a new cleric of any faith, a Pentagon official said Tuesday.

The official said there has been no cleric for the detainees in nearly four months, since the September 10 arrest of Muslim chaplain Army Capt. James Yee on a variety of charges stemming from his work with the detainees. (Full story)

"There was never an intent to provide a designated spiritual leader to the detainees," the official said. However, there was no direct explanation as to why Yee was allowed to meet with detainees and no Muslim cleric has been assigned to fill any similar role.

Prior to the Yee controversy the U.S. military had touted the presence of a Muslim cleric as a humanitarian gesture to help detainees follow traditions of their faith.

The official said a joint task force at the U.S. base continues to provide religious items to the detainees such as the Koran, prayer beads and head coverings. "The dynamics of the camp help them pray together, enabling them to provide each other with spiritual support and guidance," the official said.

A Muslim chaplain, Capt. Khallid Shabazz, was recently assigned to Guantanamo Bay, but his job is limited to providing ministry to Muslim troops and personnel, and to serve as an adviser to the base commander on Islamic issues.

The only chaplain currently working inside the base's Camp Delta detention facility is Maj. Daniel Odean, a member of the Christian Assemblies of God faith. Odean's ministry also is limited to camp personnel, not detainees.

The detainees are considered terrorism suspects by the United States. Most of them were captured in Afghanistan during the U.S.-led war aimed at toppling the ruling Islamic Taliban regime.

The Taliban refused to surrender terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and members of his al Qaeda network in Afghanistan, who were responsible for the September 11 attacks.

The U.S. government has been interrogating the detainees, and deciding whether they will face military tribunals or be released.

Human rights watchdog group Amnesty International has accused the United States of depriving the detainees of their basic human rights, accusations disputed by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Amnesty International says the U.S. government has arbitrarily imprisoned the detainees and has denied them "the right to humane treatment, to be informed of reasons for detention, to have prompt access to a lawyer, to be able to challenge the lawfulness of the detention, and to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise."

Other violations the group has listed include prolonged solitary confinement, heavy shackling, and lack of adequate exercise.

There have been reports of several suicide attempts by detainees at Camp Delta.

U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear two legal appeals over whether the detainees are being held unlawfully. It would be the first time the justices review the constitutionality of the White House's war on terror laws that stemmed from the September 11 attacks.

Arguments in the appeals will be heard sometime early this year, with a ruling expected by June. (Full story)

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