Thursday, February 16, 2006


U.N. Calls Guantanamo a U.S. Torture Camp

By SAM CAGE, Associated Press Writer

The United States must close its detention facility at Guantanamo Bay because it is effectively a torture camp where prisoners have no access to justice, a U.N. report released Thursday concluded.

The White House rejected the recommendation.

The 54-page report summarizing an investigation by five U.N. experts accused the United States of practices that "amount to torture" and demanded detainees be allowed a fair trial or freed. The investigators did not visit the detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"Those people should be released or brought before an independent court," Manfred Nowak, the U.N. investigator for torture, told The Associated Press. "That should not be done in Guantanamo Bay, but before ordinary U.S. courts, or courts in their countries of origin or perhaps an international tribunal."

The United States should allow "a full and independent investigation" at Guantanamo and also give the United Nations access to other detention centers, including secret ones, in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, Nowak said by telephone from his office in Vienna, Austria.

"We want to have all information about secret places of detention because whenever there is a secret place of detention, there is also a higher risk that people are subjected to torture," he said.

The United States is holding about 490 men at the military detention center. They are accused of links to Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime or to al-Qaida, but only a handful have been charged.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan rejected the call to shut the camp, saying the military treats all detainees humanely and "these are dangerous terrorists that we're talking about."

The U.N. investigators said photographic evidence — corroborated by testimony of former prisoners — showed detainees shackled, chained and hooded. Prisoners were beaten, stripped and shaved if they resisted, they said.

The report's findings were based on interviews with former detainees, public documents, media reports, lawyers and questions answered by the U.S. government, which detailed the number of prisoners held but did not give their names or the status of charges against them.

Some of the interrogation techniques — particularly the use of dogs, exposure to extreme temperatures, sleep deprivation and prolonged isolation — caused extreme suffering.

"Such treatment amounts to torture, as it inflicts severe pain or suffering on the victims for the purpose of intimidation and/or punishment," the report said.

The U.N. experts who wrote the report had sought access to Guantanamo Bay since 2002. Three were invited last year, but refused in November after being told they could not interview detainees.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the U.N. report "clearly suffers from their unwillingness to take us up on our offer to go down to Guantanamo to observe first-hand the operations."

The International Committee of the Red Cross is the only independent monitoring body allowed to visit Guantanamo's detainees, but it reports its findings solely to U.S. authorities.

Legislators and journalists have been allowed in on guided tours but few are permitted to see interrogations.

The U.S. ambassador to U.N. offices in Geneva, Kevin Moley, wrote in a response that the investigation had taken little account of evidence provided by the United States.

"We categorically object to most of the unedited report's content and conclusions as largely without merit and not based clearly in the facts," Moley said.

Although his statement did not address specific allegations, the Pentagon has acknowledged 10 cases of abuse or mistreatment at Guantanamo, including a female interrogator climbing onto a detainee's lap and a detainee whose knees were bruised from being forced to kneel repeatedly.

In Strasbourg, France, the European Parliament condemned the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo and renewed its calls for the detention center to be closed.

Human rights activists also supported the investigators' findings.

Amnesty International said the report was only the "tip of the iceberg."

"The United States also operates detention facilities at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq and has been implicated in the use of secret detention facilities in other countries," an Amnesty statement said.

Many of the allegations in the report have been made before. But the document represented the first inquiry launched by the 53-nation U.N. Human Rights Commission, the world body's top rights watchdog.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric stressed it was compiled by independent experts. Asked whether Secretary General Kofi Annan endorsed the panel's findings, Dujarric said: "The secretary-general has often said, and repeatedly said, that there is a need for proper understanding and effective balance between action against terrorism and the protection of civil liberties and human rights."

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