WASHINGTON -- The commander of the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, said in testimony before a House panel yesterday that interrogators were just beginning to glean valuable intelligence from some detainees held there. The White House, meanwhile, shrugged off critics and stood by its decision not to shutter the facility.
Brigadier General Jay Hood, commander of the task force running the prison, told members of the House Armed Services Committee that prisoners at the island compound could still provide crucial information to military investigators.
''In some cases detainees under our control for as long as two years -- who had resisted talking to us and refused to communicate any relevant information -- have, over the last six months, elected to begin to talk with us about where they were and what their activities were," Hood said.
Amid growing criticism of the way the 518 inmates, mostly detained in Afghanistan, have been treated at Guantanamo, the Pentagon allowed members of the House Armed Services Committee to visit the site over the weekend, gaining some support from lawmakers.
President Bush has not veered from his determination to keep the prison open, said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. ''There has been no better alternative that has been brought to our attention for dealing with these detainees," McClellan said.
Representative Duncan Hunter, the California Republican who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, said his visit to Guantanamo and comments by Hood ''laid to rest what I consider to be irresponsible allegations" of mistreatment.
''It's obvious that we have to keep this facility, and we've got to keep it open," Hunter said.
Hood denied allegations of systematic abuse of detainees at the prison. Other military officials dismissed allegations in a recent New England Journal of Medicine article that medical personnel were using detainees' medical records to help point out vulnerabilities to interrogators. Asked if the article was accurate, Navy Commander Cary Ostergaard, head of the prison hospital, replied, ''Absolutely, 100 percent, no, sir."
Human rights and legal groups have been critical of the prison. But their criticism was absent from yesterday's hearing of the Armed Services Committee called to brief lawmakers on prison operations.
Delegate Madeleine Bordallo, Democrat of Guam and a nonvoting representative to Congress, dubbed it ''more of a resort" than a prison.