February 16, 2006

UN alleges torture at Guantanamo

By Richard Waddington

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United States on Thursday faced
mounting international calls to close its Guantanamo prison
camp with U.N. investigators saying detainees there faced
treatment amounting to torture.

In a 40-page report, which had been largely leaked, five
United Nations special envoys said the United States was
violating a host of human rights, including a ban on torture,
arbitrary detention and the right to a fair trial.

The report is likely to fuel new Arab anger over the
treatment of Iraqi inmates at Baghdad's U.S.-run Abu Ghraib
prison after Australian TV broadcast more images of abuse

"The United States government should close the Guantanamo
Bay detention facilities without further delay," the human
rights' rapporteurs declared.

Until that happened, the U.S. government should "refrain
from any practice amounting to torture or cruel, inhuman or
degrading treatment or punishment," they added.

Harsh conditions, such as placing detainees in solitary
confinement, stripping them naked, subjecting them to severe
temperatures, and threatening them with dogs could amount to
torture, which is banned in all circumstances and in all wars.

"The excessive violence used in many cases during
transportation ... and forced-feeding of detainees on hunger
strike must be assessed as amounting to torture," the report

In London, U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour
told the BBC she saw no alternative to closing the prison at
the U.S. naval base in Cuba where some 500 terrorism suspects
are held, many of them for four years, without trial.

Speaking ahead of the release of the report, Arbour said
that, although she did not endorse every recommendation it
made, the United States should put inmates on trial or release
them and shut down the prison.


But Washington, which denies that Guantanamo inmates are
mistreated or that international laws are being broken, accused
the U.N. investigators of acting like the prosecution lawyers.

"It selectively includes only those factual assertions
needed to support those conclusions and ignores other facts
that would undermine those conclusions," U.S. ambassador to the
U.N. in Geneva, Kevin E. Moley, said in a letter to Arbour.

The United States denies that most of the rights, laid down
in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to
which Washington is a signatory, apply to Guantanamo Bay.

If they did, Moley argued, this would lead to "the
manifestly absurd result" that prisoners seized in the U.S.
struggle against Al Qaeda would have more rights than those
taken in normal armed conflict between two states.

Washington also denies that the force-feeding of inmates on
hunger strike, which was undertaken to save their lives,
amounted to cruel treatment.

The five U.N. investigators, who include Manfred Nowak,
special rapporteur on torture, and Leila Zerrougui, chairperson
of the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, said the
findings were based on interviews with past detainees, lawyers
and replies to questions put to the U.S. government.

But the five turned down a U.S. offer to visit the
detention center late last year because Washington would not
allow them to interview individual detainees.

Adding to pressure on Washington, the European Parliament
was expected to back a call later on Thursday for Guantanamo to
be closed and all prisoners to be treated in full accordance
with international humanitarian law.

The resolution, which reaffirms a commitment to fighting
terrorism, is backed by all major political groups within the
European legislature. It is non-binding and does not oblige the
25 European Union member states to take any action.