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Senator: Shutter camp for detainees



Published: Sat, June 11, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Donald Rumsfeld has said that closing the camp is not being considered.

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

KEY WEST, Fla. -- Sen. Mel Martinez, who served in President Bush's first Cabinet, on Friday became the first high-profile Republican to call for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp for suspected terrorists.

Speaking to a meeting of the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors in Key West, Martinez called the camp "an icon for bad news."

"At some point you wonder the cost-benefit ratio: How much do you get out of having that facility there?" Martinez said. "Is it serving all the purposes you thought it would serve when initially you began it? Or can this be done some other way a little better?"

The high-security prison camp in Cuba has been surrounded by controversy since it opened in January 2002, three months after the invasion of Afghanistan.

Inmates have accused their American captors of abuse and of violating their Muslim beliefs as a method of interrogation. The International Red Cross and internal FBI documents have corroborated some of those allegations.

Joins a former president

In calling for the camp's closure, Martinez joined former President Carter and Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, both Democrats, who also said this week that the camp should be shuttered.

At the same time, another Republican senator, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, is urging Congress to establish new rules and laws for handling the cases of prisoners captured in the war on terrorism.

Specter, who's the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, intends to hold hearings on prisoners' rights at Guantanamo on Wednesday.

It's unclear whether the administration is seriously considering closing the prison camp or what impact Martinez's comments will have on the debate, but his comments give a rare bipartisan push to an issue that until now has been mired in partisan rancor.

Martinez, a Cuban-American, served as secretary of Housing and Urban Development during Bush's first term and is close to the president and his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

He was frequently at President Bush's side during the hard-fought 2004 election campaign and was selected by Bush advisers to give a prime-time speech during last summer's Republican National Convention.

Bush said in a Fox News interview Wednesday that his administration has been "looking at all alternatives" to keeping captives at the base in Cuba.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told reporters in Europe that no consideration was being given to closing the camp.

Martinez told the Florida editors that he supported Biden's idea that the United States debate its enemy combatant policy and ultimately close the prison in Cuba. Martinez and Biden serve on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"It's not very American, by the way, to be holding people indefinitely," said Martinez, who is an attorney. "Now they're like POWs, and the conflict is still ongoing and typically you wouldn't release POWs until the end of the conflict."

The discussion of the camp's future has intensified in the wake of an Amnesty International report that described the camp as "the gulag of our times."




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