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News Briefs

Rumsfeld Defends Detention

THE WASHINGTON POST -- WASHINGTON

In the face of continued criticism of U.S. treatment of al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Tuesday mounted a vigorous, hour-long defense of security procedures used at the U.S. military facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“The treatment of the detainees in Guantanamo Bay is proper, it’s humane, it’s appropriate, and it is fully consistent with international conventions,” Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon briefing. “No detainee has been harmed ... The numerous articles, statements, questions, allegations and breathless reports on television are undoubtedly by people who are either uninformed, misinformed or poorly informed.”

European governments and human rights groups escalated criticism of U.S. detention policy in recent days after the Pentagon released photos of the prisoners, including one that showed them blindfolded, manacled and on their knees. The photo was taken by a Navy photographer minutes after the first group of detainees arrived at the base on Jan. 11. The human rights group Amnesty International, for one, said that “keeping prisoners incommunicado, sensory deprivation, the use of unnecessary restraint and the humiliation of people through tactics such as shaving them are all classic techniques employed to ‘break’ the spirit of individuals ahead of interrogation.”

Al-Qaida Leader Revealed Plot Against U.S. Embassy in Yemen

THE WASHINGTON POST -- WASHINGTON

A senior al-Qaida leader held by U.S. forces in Afghanistan provided information about an alleged plot to blow up the U.S. Embassy in Yemen with a truck bomb that led to last week’s decisions to close the embassy consular office and tighten security around the facility, Bush administration officials said Tuesday.

The information was provided by Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a former head of al-Qaida training camps in Afghanistan and a close associate of Osama bin Laden, during an interrogation at the U.S. military base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, officials said. Al-Libi is the most senior al-Qaida member known to be held by the United States.

Officials said that although they were not certain about the information’s accuracy, U.S. authorities took it seriously enough to issue a “credible threat” warning and order the consular office closed. The Yemeni government also has increased police security around the embassy, officials said. The disclosure from al-Libi marked the latest example in what U.S. officials characterize as an intelligence windfall from al-Qaida and Taliban fighters, documents, videotapes and other material seized in Afghanistan. U.S. officials say information learned there has helped thwart possible attacks in Singapore and Bosnia.

Donors Pledge $27.2 Million for De-Mining Afghanistan

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- TOKYO

Officials from 24 nations and international organizations Tuesday pledged $27.2 million, including $7 million by the United States, for de-mining Afghanistan, at the close of a two-day conference on rebuilding the country. While the funds were welcomed by Afghan government officials, they’re a fraction of the $668 million over seven years that U.N. experts say is needed to eliminate the nation’s land mine and unexploded ordnance problem.

Ridding Afghanistan of these time bombs, or at least minimizing their ability to inflict damage, is an ambitious goal. By some estimates, as many as 10 million land mines and other unexploded ordnance litter Afghanistan after decades of war and instability.

An estimated 300 Afghans are killed every month from the deadly leftovers, including children scavenging for the 25 cents worth of metal in the mine, the U.N. says. Half the victims die instantly, said land-mine experts here, or succumb to their wounds on the way to doctors, who are often several days of hard travel away. That figure compares with around 30 people a month killed nowadays in Cambodia, a past poster child for anti-mine campaigns, the U.N. says.