Lawmakers plan to tour Guantanamo detention facilities

Thursday, January 24th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ About two dozen members of Congress were to head Friday to Guantanamo for a tour of the detention facilities holding captured al-Qaida and Taliban fighters from Afghanistan.

The visit's primary purpose is to see whether useful intelligence is being gleaned from the captives, said some lawmakers. The recent spate of international criticism about the treatment of the prisoners was not high on their priority list.

``This has nothing to do whatsoever with treatment of prisoners,'' said Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. ``I am not going to get into the debate about the size of holding cells,'' or other such matters. ``I'm not interested in any of that.''

Instead, he said, he'll focus on the gathering of intelligence.

``My main concern, my oversight responsibilities, are to make darn sure we are protecting the people of the United States of America to the greatest degree possible, and that means having the best information possible,'' Goss said in an interview Thursday.

Several lawmakers of his committee will be among the approximately 20 House members on the tour, he said.

Also scheduled to go is Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, as well as Senate Armed Services Committee members Bill Nelson, D-Fla., James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. Staffers from that committee and its House counterpart were to go as well.

The prospect of important Senate votes Friday _ which the office of Majority Leader Tom Daschle said was likely _ threatened to disrupt the plans of the four senators, since the Senate is so closely balanced, with 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and one independent.

Nelson said he would go to Guantanamo if he considered the votes minor, since he had requested a tour as a follow-up to a trip by nine senators to Afghanistan during the winter recess.

``You get firsthand information by being on the scene,'' Nelson said in an interview Thursday, adding that he wanted to ``see how the process is working in helping us prosecute the war on terrorism.''

``My interest is to find out if we are getting information from these terrorist prisoners that will help us prevent further terrorist acts,'' Nelson said.

But he said he also would take note of the treatment of prisoners.

``There's been a lot of commentary,'' he said. ``I don't have any reason to believe that there is not humane treatment, but I'll be observing everything.''

Rep. Bob Stump, R-Ariz., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he rejected an invitation to join the trip, anticipating it would be used to criticize U.S. treatment of the captives.

``I take a dim view of that, people out there just waiting to jab the United States, the bleeding heart people always looking for a cause,'' Stump said in an interview. He called it ``anti-defense to begin with, anti-American.''