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.