U.N. Calls for End to Guantánamo Detentions

The United Nations has issued a call for the United States to either try or release the prisoners at Guantánamo.

A United Nations report today called on the United States to immediately close the detention center for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and to either release its inmates or bring them to trial. The report, by a team of five inspectors for the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, blasted the American government for a litany of abuses, and said that certain practices at the prison camp “must be assessed as amounting to torture.”

The American ambassador who acts as a liaison to the Human Rights Commission, Keven E. Maloney, rejected the report’s findings in a letter that was included with it. He said the inspectors began by concluding that abuses existed, and that the report “selectively includes only those factual assertions needed to support those conclusions and ignores other facts that would undermine those conclusions.” Mr. Maloney also criticized the inspectors for rejecting an invitation to visit the camp, which was created on a former naval base in early 2002 to house suspected terrorists captured during the invasion of Afghanistan that followed the Sept. 11th attacks. The camp holds about 500 prisoners. The inspectors said in the report that they had turned down the invitation because they would not have been able to meet privately with detainees.

The prison camp has long been the subject of criticism, both from human rights activists and from many European countries. Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, raised the issue in a White House meeting with President Bush last month, and described if afterward as one on which there had been “differences of opinion.” President Bush defended the camp as a necessary part of the war against terror.

Speaking in London before the release of the report, the United Nation’s high commissioner for human rights, Louise Arbour, told the BBC that said she could not endorse every recommendation it contained, but that she could see little alternative to closing down the facility.

The report was based on interviews with former inmates and their lawyers, public documents, media reports and on written answers provided by American officials. It focused in particular on the force-feeding of inmates on conducting hunger strikes, which is said was both a violation of human rights and of medical ethics, and of the use of interrogation techniques that go beyond what international law permits. “The confusion with regard to authorized and unauthorized interrogation techniques is particularly alarming,” it said.

AP’s Sam Cage adds,

Although the investigators did not visit Guantanamo, they said photographic evidence and the testimonies of former prisoners showed detainees were shackled, chained, hooded and forced to wear earphones and goggles. They said prisoners were beaten if they resisted. “Such treatment amounts to torture,” the report said. Some interrogation techniques — particularly the use of dogs, exposure to extreme temperatures, sleep deprivation for several consecutive days and prolonged isolation — caused extreme suffering, the report said.

It also concluded that the particular status of Guantanamo Bay under the international lease agreement between the United States and Cuba did not limit Washington’s obligations under international human rights law toward those detained there.

Many of the allegations 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. The five investigators, who come from Argentina, Austria, New Zealand, Algeria and Pakistan, were appointed by the commission to the three-year project. They worked independently and received no payment, though the U.N. covered expenses. The U.S., which is a member of the commission, has criticized the body itself for including members with poor human rights records.

The camp has been a public relations disaster for the United States and it is not entirely clear what useful purpose it continues to serve. While al Qaeda operatives captured in Afghanistan are not ordinary enemy prisoners of war entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions, simply arresting people and shipping them off to prison camps is contrary to both international law and U.S. precedent.

That said, the report’s credibility is diminished by relying principally on allegations made by sworn enemies of the United States. The commissioners certainly should have visited the camp and talked with prisoners and officials there before writing their report.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. LJD says:

    U.S response to the U.N.:

    An eviction notice and a bill for all good and services provided to date…

  2. Anderson says:

    Kevin Drum quotes and links to the National Journal articles on Gitmo (which I wish OTB had done). We are deliberately holding quite a few people on the basis of no plausible evidence whatsoever.

    The whole thing is a stunning example of why Executive Branch attempts to evade the law on a “just trust us” basis should be rejected. They aren’t trustworthy.

  3. Steven Plunk says:

    Some say the administration is attempting to evade the law. Clearly it is nothing more than differing legal opinions, far from stunning.

    The issue of holding people with no plausible evidence is puzzling. Why would we do it? It’s just a few more people to keep track of and feed. There must be some reason and just because we don’t know it doesn’t make it unreasonable.

    If the treatment is humane we are justly imprisoning these men while we are still at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are at war.

  4. Anderson says:

    Steven, take a look at the NJ articles. The reason we are holding people for no good reason, in a nutshell, is the absence of any serious institutional force to correct our errors.

    Shrugging and saying that “Comrade Bush must have his reasons” is good enough for old Soviets; it’s not good enough in the United States of America.

  5. ken says:

    The camp has been a public relations disaster for the United States and it is not entirely clear what useful purpose it continues to serve.

    Interesting: ‘A public relations disaster’

    Not a moral outrage, not a human rights abuse, not a violation of our fellow human beings god given rights, not a violation of our constitution, not a violation of our principles, not a violation of all that is good and decent about America. No outrage, it is just a public relations problem.

    This is so typical of conservatives that I really wonder about their moral capacity.

  6. James Joyner says:

    ken,

    I’ve written about the moral aspect of prisoner abuse many times. That’s really tangential to whether the camp should be closed and what to do with the prisoners. What’s important from a public policy perspective is the impact on our national security policy. The PR angle is therefore quite important.

    For the sake of argument, let’s say that the abuses are in the distant past and the prisoners are all being well treated. Should we close the camp anyway?

  7. ken says:

    James, you don’t get it. We don’t build concentration camps to hold innocent people not because it is bad public relations. We don’t build them because they are morally wrong and building them violates our very charactor as a nation. This has nothing to do with how others see us. It has to do who and what we are as a nation.

  8. Anderson says:

    Ken is being a little harsh on JJ, I think, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that building a camp at Gitmo in the first place was part of a deliberate effort to create a “law-free” zone where the Administration could do what it wanted with these people.

    Given the extraordinary deference that U.S. courts have historically shown the executive in time of war, it’s absurd to suggest there was any valid reason for detaining these people in Cuba and not, say, in a Texas compound (safely within the conservative Fifth Circuit). News flash: when people try really hard to hide from the law, it’s usually because they’re doing something illegal.

    So the operation was wrong from the start & went downhill from there.

  9. Herb says:

    It is absoloutly amazing that we not only have to hear from a bunch of self serving crooks in the UN, but we have those amoung us that seem to want our Government to free those who want to destroy us. Somehow, This is beyond any form of common sense thinking that any reasonable person could comprehend.

    I ask those of you who want to let these terrorist go free, What would you do with them?
    What would you have to say when they return and kill several hunderd Americans with a bomb?/ What would you tell the families of those who these people have killed. How could you continue to live with yourself if, after turning them loose, they returnes and killed your Mother, Father, Kids or a loved on in your family?

    Where is your ability to think of the securty of our nation and Its citizens rather than you own perveted sence of “fair play”?

    Some of you “so called” Americans are scary and dangerous.

  10. Anderson says:

    I ask those of you who want to let these terrorist go free

    That is called “begging the question,” Herb. You assume that the prisoners are terrorists, when that’s precisely the issue in dispute.

  11. debsay says:

    Ken,

    “James, you donÂ’t get it. We donÂ’t build concentration camps to hold innocent people not because it is bad public relations. We donÂ’t build them because they are morally wrong and building them violates our very charactor as a nation. This has nothing to do with how others see us. It has to do who and what we are as a nation.

    Posted by ken at February 16, 2006 12:00”

    Time to take your meds, Gitmo is not a ‘concentration camp’…. it has never been a ‘concentration camp’….

    Anderson,

    “That is called “begging the question,” Herb. You assume that the prisoners are terrorists, when thatÂ’s precisely the issue in dispute.

    Posted by Anderson at February 16, 2006 14:21”

    But you aren’t ‘begging the question’ by assuming that these people are just there because their skin is brown???? Get real…. I know lots of Middle Eastern Muslims that live in our area… they aren’t in Gitmo…. maybe that is because they didn’t have anything suspicious in their background???? Could be.. that is a reasonable conclusion to make. So why are those ‘very few’ Muslims of middle eastern decent in Gitmo???? Probably because they had something in their background that looked suspicious. See, if you just take a deep breath and think about it logically it isn’t that hard to see.

    You can’t tell me that you haven’t seen Muslims of middle eastern decent walking around free as a bird in the US….

    I honestly think that the amount of BDS that shows up in any discourse is truly amazing!!! And scary!!!

  12. Steven Plunk says:

    I can’t see holding these people as a way to “correct our errors”. If we were to release the few that we supposedly have no “plausible evidence” to hold, what would they do? Who would they tell? Who would listen? They would say something akin to “I didn’t do anything”. Right. I guess I should believe them since they were likely captured on a battlefield and not on our side.

    The the argument does not stand the logic test. If they are not a threat the military has no motivation to keep them. We have released many already.

    Some argue we should not blindly accept the administrations assertions that they are doing the right thing here. I would argue we shouldn’t blindly accept that some malfeasance is going on. The most logical conclusion is probably the correct conclusion.

  13. Anderson says:

    Debsay: But you aren’t ‘begging the question’ by assuming that these people are just there because their skin is brown????

    No, because I am not *assuming* anything. I am relying on multiple news reports from different sources. Those sources may be proved incorrect, at which time I would revise my opinions accordingly.

    Steven, take a look at the articles that Drum links if you like. “Logic” usually gives way to facts.

  14. Herb says:

    Anderson:

    You assume that some of these guys at GITMO are innocent, How about several of those already freed that have turned back up as terrorist fighting our troops again. I guess, by your standard, they were innocent.

    Gads Anderson, why does it seem that you have to get hit on the side of your head with a brick for something to sink in.

    Just tell me why Anderson do you always take any side of an issue as long as it is against Bush.

    You are a typical Democrat and follow the Democrat extremist line. I bet you and Dean are bussom buddies.

  15. dutchmarbel says:

    The commissioners certainly should have visited the camp and talked with prisoners and officials there before writing their report.

    You do realize that they didn’t visit because they would not be allowed to talk to the prisoners? Just like the Red Cross is not allowed to talk to the prisoners?

    You also realize that 86% has not been caught in the battlefield, but has been delivered by bountyhunters, for money? And those people still have nog had a trial after 4 years? Most of them have not even heard what they are accused of – because it is classified info? Whilst American militairy prosecuters have resigned because they felt the prosecution manipulated the evidence?