Camp X-Ray detainees may be tried at home

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Some of the Afghan war detainees held at Guantanamo Bay may be returned to their homelands after interrogation to face military tribunals there, according to a US senator who visited Camp X-Ray with a group of American legislators. The 158 detainees come from 25 countries.

Some of the Afghan war detainees held at Guantanamo Bay may be returned to their homelands after interrogation to face military tribunals there, according to a US senator who visited Camp X-Ray with a group of American legislators. The 158 detainees come from 25 countries.

But James Inhofe, a Republican Senator from Oklahoma, made it clear that he had no sympathy with international criticism of their treatment. "Right now those guys are being treated far better than they would have been back in Afghanistan."

Senator Inhofe was among 20 members of the Senate and House of Representatives visiting Camp X-Ray, hastily built in a shallow valley in the middle of the 45-square-mile US naval base on the south-eastern tip of Cuba.

Surrounded by low hills dotted with sparse vegetation, scorched by the Caribbean sun, it measures just 300ft by 300ft. Large, black turkey buzzards circle over the site, guarded by seven watch-towers, each manned by a soldier equipped with binoculars and a semi-automatic rifle. A green and white sign in Arabic points to Mecca.

Camp X-Ray resembles a building site as new, more permanent facilities are erected for up to 2,500 prisoners, including bunk beds and latrines. Senator Inhofe complained this sounded as though they would be "more lavish than they need to be". Leaving no doubt as to where he stood on the issue, he added: "I will categorise them as terrorists."

The politicians who marched around Camp X-Ray in the 33C sunshine were genuinely surprised at the controversy created by the publication of photographs which showed bound, shackled inmates, forced to kneel in earmuffs and blacked-out goggles. To them, as with most Americans, the men being held and interrogated are one and the same as the hijackers of 11 September, even though they have not been charged, let alone found guilty, of any crime.

"We're supposed to feel sorry for these murderous detainees because they were photographed?" scoffed Illeana Ros-Lehtinen, a Congresswoman from south Florida. "Well, I'll give you a choice – get your photo taken or get hit by an airplane."

As they were led around, an officer pointed out David Hicks, the Australian citizen who warned his captors he intends "to kill an American".

"I think we all gave him the evil eye," said Ms Ros-Lehtinen as she made a gesture of strangling someone. The prisoners in their bright orange jumpsuits were also giving an evil eye to the delegation, "staring at us the whole time," she said.

Before they left, the legislators held a brief press conference in the base's cavernous hangar. They were very impressed with what they had seen, they said. The prisoners were being treated humanely and the men and women guarding the prisoners were "making America proud".

The small accompanying media group had to take that on trust: so far the press has not been allowed closer than 200 yards from the prison. The Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, is due to visit the camp today and will be able to decide whether there is anything to hide.

* Secretary of State Colin Powell urged President George Bush to treat the inmates of Camp X-Ray as prisoners of war instead of "illegal combatants", according to a White House memo, the Washington Times reported.

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