At the Pentagon, in the room where half-hour briefings usually start and end on time, Rumsfeld spoke for more than an hour in a briefing dominated by the detainee issue and volunteered to stay until all questions were answered, although he eventually cut off remaining questioners.
The current prison is a makeshift affair to be replaced by prefabricated units that would be more durable but not permanent, he said. A contract now being considered by senior defense officials calls for walled facilities with one wall of mesh wire that opens into a common hall, like a standard prison.
Yet even now, Rumsfeld said, the detainees have warm showers, toiletries, water, clean clothes, blankets, "culturally appropriate meals," prayer mats, medical care, exercise and writing materials. Critics who liken their treatment to "torture" are spouting "utter nonsense," he said.
The Pentagon refuses to call them "prisoners," a status Rumsfeld and others said confers legal rights on them. When questioned about that, Rumsfeld repeatedly said he would defer to "the lawyers" at the Pentagon, at one point noting that he had dropped out of law school.
"We are giving them the treatment that is appropriate under the Geneva Convention," he said. "I think that the legal questions I'm going to leave to the lawyers."
In Los Angeles, meanwhile, the military cleared a hurdle Tuesday when a federal judge expressed "grave doubts" about whether he has jurisdiction to act on a lawsuit challenging the detention of these suspects in Cuba.
In another development, officials said John Walker Lindh of California, the "American Talib," was en route to the United States, where he will be turned over to the Justice Department. He has been charged in federal court in Alexandria, Va., with conspiring to kill U.S. nationals in the fight in Afghanistan, and also with providing support and material to the Al Qaeda and other foreign terrorist organizations.
He has been held on the warship Bataan. Because he will not be tried by the military, he won't be sent to Cuba. "He will go where they want him," Rumsfeld said.