DW-RADIO interviewed Elmar Brok, head of the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee, about his recent visit to the US military detention camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
Conditions are better, but detainees still aren't accorded their rights, Brok said
Brok was part of a delegation of European parliamentarians and US representatives who visited the US prison at Guantanamo Bay. The visit was part of an effort on the part of the US government to open the camp to more scrutiny, in the face of continuing calls for it to be shut down altogether. Critics have said that allegations of torture at the prison and the ongoing detention of suspects without trial are unacceptable. The US has insisted it won't release prisoners if there's a danger they might commit terrorist acts.
DW-RADIO: How much access did you have to the detention center at Guantanamo Bay?
Elmar Brok: We saw nearly everything -- all the camps, the hospitals, the courtroom and the interrogation rooms.
Can you describe what the conditions are like for a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay?
I think the conditions are much better now. It's not comparable anymore to what we saw at Camp X-Ray in 2002. The way people are dealt with is much better now, but that does not solve the principle problem.
For the moment, they have everything they need in their cells. They have good food, they have first class medical service and they also have a chance, if the guards believe that they have behaved well, to have better conditions, including sports facilities.
And yet you say this doesn't solve the fundamental problem you have with Guantanamo Bay. What is the problem?
The fundamental problem is that they are kept there indefinitely, and there is no way for their position to be clarified legally.
Detainees at Camp Delta in 2004
Who were you able to speak to there?
We spoke to the head of the facilities there, to the chief interrogator as well as to Rear Admiral Harris, who is in charge of all the Guantanamo facilities, and also to someone from the Pentagon.
What did you say to them?
We said a solution should be found so that people have a perspective that they will be dealt with. Because if we want to win the battle with the fundamentalists, we have to keep our Western values. And the rule of law and the rights of the individual are part of Western values, whether you like it or not.
So that they will get a trial and if they're innocent be let out...
I believe so. Of course, there's always the danger that someone is dangerous but you cannot prove it, but that is the risk of democracy and the rule of law. And if we destroy this, I think it will be difficult to win the battle worldwide.
How did the people you spoke to at Guantanamo respond to that type of argument?
I think they do not understand it. They see that they are in a difficult situation; therefore they now allow much more transparency and have better facilities, deal better with the detainees. But this principle question still has not been grounded in official policy. We see that this debate is going on in the United States itself and that members of Congress have different opinions.
Criticism has already spurred some change at Camp Delta
What do you think can change that perspective?
I think that the better facilities show that there is a greater awareness that they cannot continue that way. I believe that in our Western alliance we have to find a common approach, because we have to fight terrorism together.
What will be the result of your visit?
It is part of the discussion with our American friends. I will report to the European Parliament, and we will have a further debate about it. The British prime minister and the German chancellor have already mentioned it in a critical sense to President Bush, so I think there will be further developments.
How high are your hopes that something actually can be done?
First of all, it is an American decision, it is in American hands. But I believe that because you have a critical discussion in the United States there may be change. There has already been a change.
Were you able to have contact with any prisoners in Guantanamo?
No, we were not allowed to. Only the International Red Cross may have contact with them.