U.S. says some Guantanamo prisoners can phone home

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba Wed Mar 12, 2008 11:28am EDT

A U.S. Army guard stands in a corridor of cells in Camp Five, a detention facility at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in this September 4, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Joe Skipper/Files

A U.S. Army guard stands in a corridor of cells in Camp Five, a detention facility at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in this September 4, 2007 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Joe Skipper/Files

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - The U.S. military has agreed to let some prisoners detained in President George W. Bush's war on terrorism and held for years at the Guantanamo naval base speak by telephone with their families, a spokesman said on Wednesday.

The Pentagon has approved plans allowing such calls up to twice a year but the military task force that runs the Guantanamo detention operation was still working out details, such as how the calls would be arranged and monitored.

"I have no projected timeline for implementation but it is currently being developed," said Lt. Col. Ed Bush, a spokesman for the controversial U.S. detention center in Cuba.

The International Committee of the Red Cross launched a similar program two months ago for Afghan captives held by the U.S. military at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, who are allowed to see and speak to their families in video teleconference calls.

Guantanamo prisoners are allowed to write and receive mail, which is censored by the military and delivered by the ICRC, but have only rarely been allowed to receive phone calls.

Typically, phone calls are arranged for humanitarian reasons, to allow relatives to tell them when a loved one has died.

The United States began sending captives suspected of links to al Qaeda and Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers to the isolated U.S. naval base in southeastern Cuba in January 2002 and still holds about 275 from all over the world.

Human rights groups consider the camp an abomination as detainees held there are deprived of all legal rights normally accorded U.S. citizens and prisoners of war.

The Bush administration considers them "unlawful enemy combatants" who are not entitled to the protections granted prisoners of war and says they can be held indefinitely, without charge or trial, until the end of the war against terrorism.

The U.S. Supreme Court is currently weighing what rights the Guantanamo detainees may have to challenge their detention.

(Editing by Michael Christie and David Wiessler)

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