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Muslim Navy Chaplain Due in Cuba

Prison: Criticism of U.S. treatment of war detainees mounts.

January 22, 2002|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

WASHINGTON — A Muslim cleric is expected to arrive today at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay to serve the religious needs of Afghan war detainees being held at a makeshift prison in Cuba, U.S. military officials said Monday.

The decision to send a U.S. Navy Muslim chaplain to the camp came as the United States faced mounting criticism from European allies about the conditions and legal standing of more than 150 inmates transported in recent weeks to the open-air prison at the remote outpost on Cuba's southeastern coast.

A group of U.S. civil rights advocates, including former Atty. Gen. Ramsey Clark, also has raised questions about the prisoners' treatment. A hearing is scheduled today in federal court in Los Angeles to consider a lawsuit filed by the group demanding that the terrorism suspects be charged in court.

An additional 14 detainees, transported under tight security, arrived Monday at Guantanamo.

In Europe, a key U.S. ally attempted to assuage growing concerns over the treatment of the detainees at the facility.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair's office said Monday that a team of observers sent to the camp reported that three Britons in custody had no complaints about their treatment. Accusations of torture and inhumane conditions have been front-page news in Britain--America's closest ally in the war on terrorism--since the U.S. military released pictures of kneeling and shackled prisoners last week.

"The photographs of the prisoners from Afghanistan, bound, shaven and deprived of sense of sight, sound, touch and even smell, confirm the folly of the United States in its determination to go it alone in dispensing justice to those responsible for the mass murders of last September," Britain's Independent newspaper said Monday in an editorial.

A British Foreign Ministry team spent three days at Guantanamo, said Ben Bradshaw, the Foreign Office parliamentary undersecretary. "There were no gags, no goggles, no earmuffs and no shackles while [the prisoners] are in their cells."

U.S. military leaders, who have described the men transported to the outpost as "the worst of the worst," say extremely tight security is warranted. The camp may eventually hold as many as 2,000 prisoners deemed dangerous by U.S. officials, who have said the remote location makes it possible to ensure that the prisoners can do no harm.

Some European leaders have questioned why John Walker Lindh, the 20-year-old Californian captured in November after fighting alongside the Taliban against U.S.-led forces, has been treated differently from his fellow fighters. As an American citizen, Lindh has been charged in the U.S. criminal justice system. He faces a possible life sentence for charges that he conspired to kill U.S. citizens overseas, but has not been charged with treason.

International Committee of the Red Cross officials have met privately with detainees but have declined to reveal their findings.

A U.S. Central Command spokesman in Florida described as "routine" the decision to make a Muslim spiritual advisor available.

"Just as we would send a priest to provide for someone who is Catholic, we're providing [the prisoners] with a Muslim chaplain in case they require religious guidance," said Air Force Maj. Villa Vicensio.

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