Terrorism suspects held in the US Navy prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are being dealt with “humanely” and with “dignity,” the nation’s top military officer says in disputing reported abuses.
In television appearances on Sunday, Air Force General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also said US officials believe al Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is wounded, but it’s not known how badly.
Muslims in several countries have demonstrated in recent weeks over allegations that a Koran, their faith’s holy book, was flushed down a toilet by guards at Guantanamo. Myers denied that.
The human rights group Amnesty International also released a report last week calling the prison camp “the gulag of our time”.
Myers said the report was “absolutely irresponsible”. He said the US was doing its best to detain fighters who, if released, “would turn right around and try to slit our throats, slit our children’s throats”.
“This is a different kind of struggle, a different kind of war,” Myers said on a Fox news programme.
“We struggle with how to handle them (the prisoners), but we’ve always handled them humanely and with the dignity that they should be accorded.”
Myers repeated the Pentagon’s contention that five cases of mistreatment of the Koran at Guantanamo had been confirmed. He did not give any other details about the mistreatment.
The US military had detained more than 68,000 people since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, he said, and looked into 325 complaints of mistreatment. Investigations have found 100 cases of prisoner mistreatment and 100 people have been punished, the general said.
On Zarqawi, who heads the al-Qaida insurgency in Iraq, Myers said US officials believe postings on a militant website that Zarqawi had been wounded in a battle. He said he did not know whether Zarqawi had left Iraq for treatment in another country, as some websites and news organisations have reported.
The Sunday Times reported that Zarqawi was being treated in Iran after a piece of shrapnel hit his chest during an attack on his convoy. Iran denies it is harbouring Zarqawi.
Myers said he did not think the US should have used more troops in the Iraq invasion but acknowledged that progress has proved slower than military officials had hoped.
“I don’t think we understood that people had been suppressed, and their spirit had been suppressed to the point where it wasn’t just going to naturally blossom once they had the opportunity,” the general said on CBS’ Face the Nation.
Today, Myers said he believes there are plenty of positive developments as well.
“In Iraq, what I find encouraging is that the political process continues to march on … looking for ways to get the Sunnis involved (in the new government),” he said on ABC’s Good Morning America. Myers called that “a key to success” there.
Asked when the US might be able to withdraw its military men and women, Myers replied that “as Iraqi security forces get better and better,” there will be an opportunity to recall troops, although he did not specify a timetable.
On Sunday, Myers joined Rolling Thunder, an annual motorcycle rally in the capital to support veterans. Thousands of bikers rode from the Pentagon to the National Mall, gathering at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Myers, wearing blue jeans and a shirt emblazoned with an American flag, told the crowd that Rolling Thunder and other such groups “helped Americans realise that no matter where they are sent overseas, we have to respect our military”.
Among those attending were Keith and Carolyn Maupin, the parents of Sgt. Keith Maupin, the only US soldier listed as missing and captured in Iraq. The 21-year-old soldier has been missing since his convoy was attacked west of Baghdad on April 9.
“To see these people and see their faces, and hear their caring and sincerity, it’s just amazing,” Carolyn Maupin said. “It touches our hearts.”