May 19, 2006

US urged to close Guantanamo

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations committee against
torture told the United States on Friday it should close any
secret prisons abroad and the Guantanamo Bay facility in Cuba,
saying they violated international law.

The 10 independent experts, who examined the U.S. record at
home and abroad, urged President George W. Bush's
administration to "rescind any interrogation technique" that
constituted torture or cruel treatment of foreign terrorism

It cited use of dogs to terrify detainees, "water-boarding"
which is a form of mock drowning, and sexual humiliation.

The United States "should ensure that no one is detained in
any secret detention facility under its de facto effective
control" and "investigate and disclose the existence of any
such facilities," said the committee, which has moral authority
but no legal power to enforce its recommendations.

"Detaining persons in such conditions constitutes, per se,
a violation of the Convention," said the committee which
examines compliance with the 1987 U.N. Convention against
Torture, or other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or

Secret detainees are deprived of fundamental legal rights
and could face torture, according to the body which regretted
the U.S. "no comment" policy on allegations of secret

The United States is holding hundreds of terrorism
suspects, most arrested since al Qaeda's September 11 attacks
in 2001, at its prisons in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo

Rights groups say the United States is believed to be
holding in undisclosed locations Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,
alleged operational mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and Ramzi
bin al-Shaibah, a member of the Hamburg, Germany cell that led

Another such detainee is Abu Zubaydah, a suspected senior
al Qaeda operational planner.

The activist group Human Rights Watch lists the three men,
captured in Pakistan, as "ghost prisoners" believed to be in
U.S. custody but without legal rights or access to lawyer.

Washington, which sent 30 senior officials to Geneva in
early May for the committee's two-day hearings, defended its
treatment of foreign terrorism suspects held abroad, saying
there had been "relatively few actual cases of abuse."

U.S. officials said waterboarding was not listed in the
current Army Field Manual and was therefore banned.


The committee voiced concern at "reliable reports of acts
of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" by U.S.
military or civilian personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"The state party (the United States) should take immediate
measures to eradicate all forms of torture and ill-treatment of
detainees by its military or civilian personnel ... and should
promptly and thoroughly investigate such acts and prosecute all
those responsible...," it said in its 10-page findings.

The Guantanamo Bay facility in Cuba should be closed and
its inmates either brought to trial or released, "ensuring they
are not returned to any state where they could face a real risk
of being tortured," the committee said.

It regretted secrecy surrounding U.S. practice of asking
countries for "diplomatic assurances" that they will not
torture detainees being sent by Washington. There was a lack of
judicial scrutiny and monitoring to ensure that guarantees were

The committee also voiced concerns at use of electro-shock
devices in U.S. prisons, shackling of women inmates during
childbirth and the "harsh regime" in "supermaximum prisons."

It told the United States to report back in a year.

"The report obviously is extremely critical of U.S.
policies and appropriately so," Jennifer Daskal, U.S. advocacy
director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, told

"We hope that the United States will take heed of this
report and really begin to rethink and change its policies on a
number of practices, including secret prisons, lack of
accountability for abuse, and transfer of prisoners to places
where they may be tortured," she said.