Terrorists 'using Guantanamo as a recruitment aid'

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The Independent US

Senior Democrats are calling for the closure of America's detention centre in Guantanamo, Cuba, saying it has become a "propaganda and recruitment tool" for terrorists in the wake of continued allegations of prisoner abuse.

Senior Democrats are calling for the closure of America's detention centre in Guantanamo, Cuba, saying it has become a "propaganda and recruitment tool" for terrorists in the wake of continued allegations of prisoner abuse.

A leading senator, Joseph Biden of Delaware, suggested the time had come to consider a gradual closure of the facility, arguing its worsening reputation around the world was helping to recruit people bent on hurting the US.

"This has become the greatest propaganda tool that exists for recruiting of terrorists around the world. And it is unnecessary to be in that position."

For a start, the senator argued, there should at least be an independent commission established to address the value of keeping Guantanamo. "The end result is, I think we should end up shutting it down, moving those prisoners."

"Those that we have reason to keep, keep. And those we don't, let go."

The White House spent the weekend trying to play down a Pentagon report confirming instances of abuse of the Koran, the Islamic holy book, at the camp in Guantanamo, chastising the media and placing the blame on a few rogue US guards acting in disregard of American policy.

The furore comes just two weeks after the Bush administration assailed Newsweek magazine for suggesting that guards had flushed a copy of the Koran down the lavatory. The magazine withdrew the claim, saying it was unsure of its sources but not before it had triggered anti-American rioting in Afghanistan and several other Muslim countries.

But, on Friday, the Pentagon concluded there had indeed been some scattered cases where the Koran had been desecrated in the facility, though none flushed in a lavatory. In one case, a guard's urine had splashed on a Koran. Also recorded were cases where the books had been kicked or stamped on by guards and interrogators or made wet when guards threw water balloons into cells.

The revelation triggered a familiar White House response. Blaming lower-ranking soldiers was also the strategy at the outbreak of the abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

"It is unfortunate some have chosen to take out of context a few isolated incidents by a few individuals," presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said in a statement from George Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas. He noted that the report said there were in fact more cases of the book being desecrated by inmates than by guards. (Although why that should be is not explained.)

Conditions at Guantanamo, where suspects are held without charge and without access to legal representation, are rapidly becoming a public relations nightmare for the White House. Last week, Amnesty International likened the high-security facility to the Gulag, prompting a swift response from President George Bush. He called the characterisation "absurd".

Meanwhile, the President faced new difficulties in forcing through the confirmation of John Bolton as his choice for new US ambassador to the UN as reports emerged accusing him of unfairly forcing the resignation of a UN official in 2002 who was head of the international body responsible for monitoring chemical weapons proliferation around the world.

The Associated Presssaid Mr Bolton flew to Vienna to orchestrate the ousting of a Brazilian, Jose Bustani, from the directorship of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, in part because he was planning to send chemical inspectors into Iraq which threatened to get in the way of US plans to invade the country.

With British help, a vote to remove Mr Bustani succeeded by a hair's breadth but was later censured.

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