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Inside Politics

Cheney: Guantanamo policy 'is the correct one'

Cheney said Guantanamo detainees are treated humanely but but do not "qualify" for treatment under the Geneva Conventions.
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Vice President Dick Cheney defends the Guantanamo Bay facility.

Sens. Chuck Hagel and Dianne Feinstein question Gitmo's role.

Does Guantanamo Bay's political cost outweigh its benefits?
What do you think of the Guantanamo Bay detention center?
It's vital to U.S. national security
It harms U.S.'s human rights record
Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (Cuba)
Acts of terror

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Vice President Dick Cheney said Monday he doesn't believe revelations about the treatment of prisoners at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay have become an image problem for the United States and that the facility should not be shut down.

"Those who most urgently advocate that we shut down Guantanamo probably don't agree with our policy anyway," the vice president said after presenting the Gerald R. Ford Foundation journalism awards at the National Press Club.

Given all the facts, he said, "Our policy is the correct one."

"The fact of the matter is, we're engaged in a conflict that's been described as the war on terror," he said. "It is unlike any conflict we've ever known before, but as a by-product, if you will, of that activity, we have from time to time captured individuals ... who are doing their level best to launch attacks against Americans either on the battlefield or in the United States."

Cheney did not mention the article in this week's issue of Time magazine based on an 84-page logbook of the interrogation and treatment of Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Guantanamo inmate U.S. officials believe intended to participate in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (Related story)

Al-Qahtani was turned away from the United States in August 2001 by a immigration agent and was later captured in Afghanistan fleeing the fighting in Tora Bora.

Time's article, authenticated by Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita, outlines al-Qahtani's treatment, which included being refused a bathroom break and forced to urinate in his pants, having a female guard straddle him, being forced to wear pictures of scantily clad women around his neck and being forced to bark and act like a dog.

But the vice president defended the treatment of Guantanamo's detainees, saying they have been treated "in a human fashion" but do not "qualify" for treatment under the Geneva Conventions "because they are unlawful combatants (who) have not operated in accordance with the laws of war: they haven't worn a uniform, they target civilians."

"In spite of that they are still treated with respect and dignity," he said.

Some Democrats -- and even some Republicans -- have suggested that the facility -- called "the gulag of our time" by a human rights official earlier this month -- may need to be shut down because of a near constant stream of complaints about treatment of detainees there.

Others, however, have stood solidly in line with Cheney's views.

Use of the prison at Guantanamo Bay's naval base, he said, has helped to protect Americans.

"Given the nature of the conflict that we're involved in, there would need to be some kind of facility that would allow you to detain people who are enemy combatants, in effect, who if you put them back on the street will do their level best to return back to the battlefield and complete their mission of trying to kill Americans," he said.

Cheney cited the military review of each detainees' case since last year, which has concluded that 38 inmates no longer should be held at Guantanamo. Five of those, he said, have been returned to their home countries.

During the use of Guantanamo as a detention center, more than 200 people have been released, he said -- and at least 10 of those have "gotten back into the battle on the other side" and have been recaptured.

Releasing the rest, he said, would result in putting "a lot of bad guys back on the street."

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