Navy Admiral Studies Prison Conditions at U.S. Detention Facility

Feb 23, 2009 6:51pm

ABC News’ Luis Martinez reports:

The U.S. Navy’s number two admiral said Monday that the detention facility at Guantanamo meets the standards of humane treatment, but additional steps are needed to increase "socialization" of the men imprisoned there.

In a Pentagon briefing, Admiral Patrick Walsh said that over 13 days his review team conducted more than 100 interviews with camp personnel and met with about a dozen detainees to hear their take and look into some of their allegations of abuse. However, Walsh said his review team’s mandate was to make sure the camp was currently in compliance and not to look at past incidents.

He said it was apparent to him that camp commanders had consistently gone "beyond the minimum standard in complying with Common Article 3" of the Geneva Conventions.

Walsh’s team recommended ways to improve conditions at the detention facilities, mainly because his team brought "a fresh set of eyes and — and what I hope would be a common-sense approach to a number of issues starting to play out after prolonged detention."

But he denied that the team’s "recommendations are items that the department must pursue to satisfy Common Article 3." Rather, he said, "they are items that we view as consistent with the approach of the chain of command to continually enhance conditions of detention."

One of the team’s recommendations was to enable greater socialization among the high-value detainees housed at Camp 7. The team found that even though current "socialization practices conform with Common Article 3… the team believes that, in certain camps, further socialization is essential to maintain humane treatment over time." This includes more "human-to-human contact, recreation opportunities with several detainees together, intellectual stimulation and group prayer."

Walsh feels that the mental health of the detainees should be part of the dialogue about "what it takes to be humane." He said his team reviewed records and found that 8 percent of the detainees were on mental health medications, a number substantially lower than the civilian population in the US. And though he didn’t find statistics to back up his concerns about socialization, he asked if it wasn’t prudent to "get in front of this" and recognize that practicing Islam calls for social interaction.

The panel also recommended using video recordings at the camps and interrogations to ensure that everything is on the up and up. Walsh says the recordings would "put everyone on notice in terms of accountability…. enhance accountability of guards and monitor their performance.

He cited how his team was able to disprove a detainee’s allegations through a review of video recordings. Why hadn’t they been used in the past? The Admiral cited technical limitations on storage capacity that have now been overcome.

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