Dangerous Detainees Important to Intelligence Effort

By Linda D. Kozaryn

The United States is a nation at war, and detaining enemy combatants is a part of that war, said U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Detaining dangerous enemy combatants prevents their return to the fight and provides intelligence to help prevent future terrorist acts, the secretary told members of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. Those at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, he said, include senior al Qaeda and Taliban operatives, as well as rank- and-file soldiers who fought against the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan.

These men are dangerous, and their detention is a "security necessity," Rumsfeld said.

So far, some detainees have revealed information about al Qaeda’s leadership structure, operatives, funding, communication, training and selection programs, travel patterns and plans for attacking the United States and other countries.

"They’ve provided information on al Qaeda ‘front’ companies and bank accounts, on surface-to-air missiles, improvised explosive devices and tactics used by terrorist elements," he said. "And they have confirmed other reports regarding the roles and intentions of al Qaeda and other terrorists organizations."

U.S. officials have no desire to hold enemy combatants longer than necessary, Rumsfeld said. In the past, the United States held enemy combatants until the conflict ended. In this case, he stressed, the war on terrorism is far from over.

"The Taliban continue to wage war against the legitimate government in Afghanistan and against our coalition forces there, by public declarations as well as hostile acts," he said. "Al Qaeda continues to wage war on Americans and on all civilized people with disturbing regularity."

U.S. officials are working to expeditiously release enemy combatants who no longer pose a threat or possess intelligence, the secretary added, but the process takes time.

Some detainees will be tried before military commissions for committing serious crimes. Some will be transferred back to their home countries, if their homeland is willing. Others who no longer pose a threat to national security will be released.

"Detainees at Guantanamo Bay represent only a small fraction of those scooped up in the global war on terror," Rumsfeld noted. "Of the roughly 10,000 people that were originally detained in Afghanistan, fewer than 10 percent were brought to Guantanamo Bay in the first place."

The vast majority of detainees were processed and released in Afghanistan, he continued. Of those sent to Guantanamo Bay, 87 have been transferred for release, and a few have been returned to their home country. U.S. officials are working with other countries to obtain agreements to permit the transfer of many more.

Rumsfeld acknowledged that the idea of detaining people without lawyers seems unusual to many Americans.

"We need to keep in mind that the people in U.S. custody are not there because they stole a car or robbed a bank," he said. "They are not common criminals. They’re enemy combatants and terrorists who are being detained for acts of war against our country, and that is why different rules have to apply."