GOP Lawmakers: Life is Good At Guantanamo Bay

By Jennifer Parker

May 20, 2009 5:17pm

ABC News’ Jennifer Parker reports: Movies, books, newspapers, Sudoku puzzles and high-quality health care. These are just some of the privileges detainees at Guantanamo Bay are receiving, according to recent claims by some Republican lawmakers.

At a news conference on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., argued the 240 detainees being held at a U.S. military detention center in Guantanamo Bay are being treated well.

"Anyone, any detainee over 55 has an opportunity to have a colonoscopy," Inhofe told reporters, "Now none of them take ‘em up on it because once they explain what it is none of them want to do it. but nonetheless its an opportunity that they have."

Inhofe has long argued detainees at Guantanamo Bay are treated well, filming this YouTube video while leading a congressional delegation to the detention facility in February. 

"It just blows your mind when you stop and think about the way that they are, are treat people down here, much better than our national, our federal prison system," Inhofe said in the video.

Inhofe is far from the first lawmaker to argue the detainees — held at the detention facility without trial — are being treated well.

"I was actually very surprised at the level of really good treatment that all of those detainees are receiving," Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., told ABC News’Rick Klein on "Top Line" Monday.

"There’s 240 of them there.  They get Al Jazeera television, they get USA Today, they have books, a library, teachers, books of Sudoku puzzles to work on.  I was fascinated at the level even of medical care.  I saw the hospital there.  My background is in medicine.  I’m an orthopedic surgeon.  They have one health care worker for every two detainees, an incredible hospital with an operating room with a quality of care that is better than many people get in the United States," Barrasso said.

Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., recently painted an idyllic picture of the detention facility.

"It is a first-class, first-rate facility that meets any kind of international standard that you could think of," Ensign said of Guantanamo Bay, arguing prisoners exercise regularly, have access to Arabic and U.S. newspapers, are given medical treatment from the American Red Cross and can watch movies.

Ensign also said the food served at to detainees is better than what was served to him and fellow senators.

His comments were reminscent of Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who singled out the lemon-baked fish and orange-glazed chicken served to detainees on what he said was a typical Sunday night dinner during a news conference in 2005. After passing out menus to reporters, Hunter called the food "gourmet fare." 

"We treat them very well," Hunter said. "They have never eaten better."

Positive arguments about detainee treatment have often come from Republican lawmakers who are opposed to closing the military detention facility.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., has also made the case that the facility is well run and prisoners are treated well.

“I don’t know of another facility anywhere in the United States … that is comparable,” Brownback said.

However the American Civil Liberties Union argues that the claims do not justify holding hundreds of detainees, some of them since 2002.

"Even if the food has improved and the torture tactics have stopped, they are still being held against their will, some of them for the last seven years without charge," said Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel for the ACLU, who last visited Guantanamo Bay in November.

Early reports by The International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations charged that American military personnel have intentionally used psychological and sometimes physical coercion "tantamount to torture" on Guantanamo Bay prisoners, including severe sleep deprivation, forced nudity, forced stress positions, sexual humiliation, religious humiliation, 20-hour interrogations, physical force, prolonged sensory over-stimulation and threats with military dogs.

Government reports and Pentagon officials have also confirmed the abuse of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Several former Guantanamo Bay prisoners who have been released have sued top Pentagon officials, alleging they were subjected to abuse akin to torture.

Defense attorneys for the detainees have also complained about the isolation of some prisoners and the force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike.

President Barack Obama signed an executive order 48 hours after taking office prohibiting the CIA from using "coercive" interrogation techniques not allowed in the Army Field Manual, including waterboarding.

"Anybody detained by the Untied States, for now, is going to be … any interrogations taking place are going to have to abide by the Army Field Manual," Obama said, pledging to shut down Guantanamo Bay within a year.

Attorney General Eric Holder, who visited Guantanamo Bay in February, said the facility is being well run now.

"I did not witness any mistreatment of prisoners. I think, to the contrary, what I saw was a very conscious attempt by these guards to conduct themselves in an appropriate way," Holder said. "It does not in any way decrease our determination to close the facility, even though as I said it is being well-run now."

Inhofe has introduced legislation that would prevent detainees from being relocated anywhere on U.S. soil.

The Democratic-led Senate voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to block the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the United States, denying President Barack the $80-million he sought to close the prison by next January.

Despite the rebuke by Democrats on Capitol Hill to Obama, the ACLU and other constitutional rights groups are pushing hard for the closure of Guantanamo Bay.

"Even if it’s true that it’s better than it had been, there is nothing that can make up for holding someone for this long against their will," Anders said. "A lot of them have not been charged withy crime and won’t be charged and they have been locked up, with the key essentially thrown away."

ABC News’ Z. Byron Wolf and Rick Klein contributed to this report.

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