From the State Department Daily Briefing on June 29th. Spokesperson Sean McCormack fields reporters’ questions on, among other subjects, those annoying UN experts who are upset because they have not been given an official list of all the places where the U.S. Government is detaining terrorism suspects, nor allowed to inspect the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay. Oh, yes, the briefing also touched on those annoying rumors about the use of U.S. Navy ships as floating interrogation centers.
Here’s the relevant part of the briefing transcript.
QUESTION: Yeah. I realize you might not be able to answer this. This is another question from the question from Barry. It’s about Mr. Novak from the UN, who not only is repeating these allegations of secret prison ships but also saying that he’s been trying to get access to Guantanamo Bay for the last three years. And I just wondered if there was a particular reason why they haven’t been given access to Guantanamo.
MR. MCCORMACK: On this issue, I would note that four UN special rapporteurs have requested access to the facilities at Guantanamo. They include Mr. Novak. Our Ambassador Pierre Prosper, who works on these issues for us, has met with the four special rapporteurs at the Commission for Human Rights meeting in Geneva in April of 2005. And we receive numerous requests for a wide variety of groups and organizations for access to Guantanamo. And we asked the special rapporteurs to specify the scope of activities in which they wish to engage at Guantanamo.
As for the status of their request, the issue of a visit and possible modalities of any such visit are a matter for continuing review in the U.S. Government. And our role here at the Department of State in this matter is to interface with the international committee and provide its advice through the interagency process. Guantanamo is a facility that is operated by the Department of Defense and access to the facility from that perspective raises a number of operational security concerns.
And as for, you know, details of that kind of access, what is required for access to the facility, I’d refer you to the Department of Defense.
QUESTION: But it wouldn’t be because, I mean, he’s part of the Human Rights Commission, the UN Human Rights Commission, which the U.S. doesn’t particularly approve of?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I just — I guess I would note the fact that there have been a number of visits already to Guantanamo. We have — the Department of Defense has provided information that we have nearly — we have had nearly 400 separate media visits to Guantanamo by more than a thousand journalists, and 180 congressional representatives. We have continuous access to the facility by the International Committee of the Red Cross. These representatives meet with detainees privately on a regular basis.
So there is quite a bit of access already and ongoing access on the part of the ICRC to Guantanamo. And as for the issue of this particular request, as I said, it’s a matter of ongoing consideration within the United States Government.
QUESTION: What are the security operational issues that such a visit would raise? I mean, you’ve just noted that ICRC people have come there so –
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. On those questions, Arshad, I’d refer you over to the Department of Defense. They could detail what security and operational issues are entailed in terms of visits.
QUESTION: On the question of undeclared prisoners, or secret prisoners, you know, this keeps on up popping up, including by Mr. Novak today. Can you deny that such prisoners exist?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, he made an allegation about prison ships and as I answered before, you know, he himself has said that these allegations are based on rumors. I told you that I have no information that would substantiate those rumors.
QUESTION: That means you have checked, yes? You have checked and asked if there’s any information to substantiate?
MR. MCCORMACK: I did check, yes. Yes. I’ve not been made aware of any information that would substantiate those.
QUESTION: Can you — sorry, but just — because I think this is an important thing and I realize, you know, certain rumors are very hard to pin down and may be completely false, but rumors about whether or not the U.S. Government has secret prison ships ought to be ones that you guys can flatly deny because you have ships and you know what they’re doing. So can you deny flatly that there are any such — not to say that you personally have no information to substantiate it, but say, speaking on behalf of the U.S. State Department, no, we don’t have any secret prison ships, this is false?
MR. MCCORMACK: I’ve said what I’m going to say on this matter.
QUESTION: Can you see if you can deny it? And, again, the reason I ask — and it’s, I think, a serious reason — is that there are certain things, rumors that you can’t knock down but, you know, the U.S. Government knows how many ships it has and what it’s doing — what they’re doing if they’re military ships and, therefore, it ought to be possible for somebody to deny it. And if it’s a canard, one — I would think it would be in the U.S. Government’s interest to deny it.
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, if there is anything more to say on the matter I will share it with you. I’ve said what I’m going to say on the matter.