New York — The US has angrily dismissed a report by five UN human rights rapporteurs calling for the immediate closure of the controversial terrorist detention centre at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
The report, released in Geneva on Thursday, says the 500 detainees — among them Australia's David Hicks — have suffered torture and other inhumane treatment and have been denied basic legal rights such as a speedy trial. It says holding prisoners without charge for years on end amounts to arbitrary detention and the US should immediately try the detainees or set them free. While not unexpected, the findings drew a hostile response from the White House where the 54-page report was branded a "discredit to the UN".
Spokesman Scott McClelland said Guantanamo Bay housed "dangerous terrorists" and told the UN it should be investigating serious breaches of human rights in other parts of the world, not rehashing old and false allegations against a democracy like the US. "It is a discredit to the UN when a team like this goes about rushing to report something when they haven't even looked into the facts," Mr McClelland said. "All they've done is look at the allegations."
The rapporteurs produced their report without actually visiting Guantanamo Bay.
They refused a US invitation to visit when told they would not be allowed to interview any of the detainees.
The report ends with a demand that the UN be allowed unrestricted access to Guantanamo Bay, including the right to private interviews with detainees.
Attached to the report was a scathing letter from the US ambassador in Geneva, Kevin Moley, accusing the rapporteurs of ignoring material provided by the US.
Mr Moley said the US was particularly bewildered by the finding that the medically supervised force-feeding of hunger strikers sometimes amounted to torture. But as always the central point of dispute was the US view that Guantanamo Bay holds enemy combatants from the US's ongoing war with al-Qa'ida.
Mr Moley said this meant the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights did not apply to the detainees, a legal position the rapporteurs reject.
"They (the rapporteurs) have relied on international human rights instruments, declarations, standards or general comments of treaty bodies without serious analysis of whether the instruments, by their terms, apply extraterritorially," Mr Moley said.
However, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appeared to back the broad thrust of the report when he said that "sooner or later" Guantanamo Bay would have to be closed.
He said he hoped the US would reach this decision "as soon as possible". Mr Annan also expressed concern about prisoners being held "in perpetuity" without trial.
"The basic premise that we need to be careful to have a balance between effective action against terrorism and individual liberties and civil rights, I think is valid," Mr Annan said.
Ironically the report came down as delicate negotiations for a new UN Human Rights Council reached a sensitive stage in New York. Last year, Mr Annan decided to back a US-led campaign to replace the Human Rights Commission, saying it had become the most discredited element of the UN family.
source: http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/printpage/0,5942,18184238,00.html 17feb2006
[MP3 file (4 minutes / 924 Kb) of this program at ABC website]
"When a Muslim dies in Guantanamo Bay, the Titanic will have hit the iceberg and if you think we've had problems with these terrible cartoons, if you think we've had problems with Abu Ghraib – it's going to pale into insignificance compared to a Muslim dying in Guantanamo Bay."
— Clive Stafford Smith is a legal representative for some of the Guantanamo detainees
ELEANOR HALL: A British Cabinet Minster has joined the United Nations in calling for the closure of the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
The White House has labelled the UN report, which also refers to torture, a "discredit" to the organisation and has rejected its recommendations.
But the release of the UN report has come just as three British residents held at Guantanamo Bay have won permission to seek a High Court order requiring the UK Government to petition for their release.
The judge found that claims of torture at the US facility meant the government might have an obligation to act on their behalf.
From Washington, Kim Landers reports.
KIM LANDERS: The controversy over Guantanamo Bay began not long after the first detainees arrived more than four years ago.
But it wasn't until today that the UN Human Rights Commission released the findings of its first inquiry into the prison.
Many of the allegations in the report have been made before and even its recommendations are no surprise because the document had already been largely leaked.
Nevertheless, the report is damning. It recommends shutting down Guantanamo Bay and says interrogation techniques, such as the use of dogs, extreme temperatures and sleep deprivation, amount to torture.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has cast doubt on the future of the camp.
KOFI ANNAN: And I think sooner or later there will be a need to close the Guantanamo, and I think it will be up to the Government to decide and hopefully to do it as soon as possible.
KIM LANDERS: But White House spokesman Scott McClellan has made it clear the Bush administration won't budge.
SCOTT MCCLELLAND: I think what we're seeing is a rehash of allegations that have been made by lawyers representing some of these detainees. We know that these are dangerous terrorists that are being kept at Guantanamo Bay. They're people that are determined to harm innocent civilians or harm innocent Americans. They were enemy combatants picked up on the battlefield in the war on terrorism.
KIM LANDERS: The five UN investigators who compiled the report didn't go to Guantanamo Bay because the US wouldn't allow them to privately interview detainees.
That hasn't stopped State Department lawyer John Bellinger from criticising their report.
JOHN BELLINGER: It's really quite remarkable to see that they would take, without any dose of scepticism, things that are being said by the detainees and worse, by their lawyers who are their advocates.
KIM LANDERS: The UN report has sparked a renewed clamour of criticism of Guantanamo Bay, which holds about 500 suspected terrorists, including Australian David Hicks.
The European Parliament has today passed a resolution endorsing the findings. Despite their shared effort with the US to defeat terrorism, European leaders are uncomfortable about Guantanamo Bay.
Before her visit to the Washington last month, German leader Angela Merkel said Guantanamo had to be brought to an end. British Prime Minister Tony Blair feels the same.
Clive Stafford Smith is a legal representative for some of the Guantanamo detainees. He says the UN's findings could fuel anger among Muslims already incensed by newly released images of Iraqi inmates being abused at the Abu Ghraib prison.
CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: It's an iconic symbol of hatred around the world, where the world looks at us and says you preach about democracy and the rule of law and yet you're behaving as hypocrites and ignoring that in Guantanamo.
KIM LANDERS: And he's added this warning.
CLIVE STAFFORD SMITH: When a Muslim dies in Guantanamo Bay, the Titanic will have hit the iceberg and if you think we've had problems with these terrible cartoons, if you think we've had problems with Abu Ghraib – it's going to pale into insignificance compared to a Muslim dying in Guantanamo Bay.
For its part, the Bush administration denies any international laws are being broken and it's just as emphatic that the Guantanamo detainees are being treated humanely.
This is Kim Landers in Washington for The World Today.
source: http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2006/s1572508.htm 17feb2006
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 16 — The United Nations on Thursday called upon the United States to shut down its detention centre at Guantanamo Bay “without further delay.”
In a prompt reaction, the US rejected the demand made in the 54-page report released by the UN simultaneously from Geneva and New York.
The UN also urged the US to bring all the prisoners held at the prison to trial or release them and stop subjecting them to abuse.
The Human Rights Commission report charged Washington with violating international human rights treaties.
“The United States government should close down the Guantanamo Bay detention centre and to refrain from any practice amounting to torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” the report said.
“Attempts by the United States administration to redefine ‘torture’ in the framework of the struggle against terrorism in order to allow certain interrogation techniques that would not be permitted under the internationally-accepted definition of torture are of utmost concern.
“The confusion with regard to authorized and unauthorized interrogation techniques over the last years is particularly alarming.”
Kevin Moley, the US ambassador to the UN in Geneva, responded that the investigation had taken little account of evidence provided by the US and that the authors had turned down an invitation to visit Guantanamo.
“It is particularly unfortunate that the special rapporteurs rejected the invitation and that their unedited report does not reflect the direct, personal knowledge that this visit would have provided,” he said.
The Amnesty International in a statement said that Guantánamo Bay had become a symbol of injustice and abuse in Washington’s “war on terror”. It must be closed down.
The AI said the unlawful detention of ‘enemy combatants’ at the US Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay had now entered its fifth year.
Hundreds of people of around 35 nationalities remain held in a legal black hole, many without access to any court, legal counsel or family visits.
Many of these detainees say they have been subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. In desperation, some detainees have attempted suicide. Others have gone on prolonged hunger strikes, being kept alive only through painful force feeding measures, the AI noted.
AFP adds: The US rejected demands that it should close the Guantanamo detention centre.
With new challenges to be made to the US Supreme Court this week and new war crimes trials about to get under way at the camp this month, the White House insisted that the 500 detainees were treated humanely and that they remained a threat.
“These are dangerous terrorists that we’re talking about that are there,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters. “The military treats the detainees humanely.”
Mr McClellan said that ‘nothing’s changed’ in the US opinion of whether the Guantanamo camp should close. He suggested that allegations of abuse amounting to torture at the camp were propaganda by militants trained to make such charges.
“We know Al Qaeda detainees are trained in trying to disseminate false allegations,” he said. “Some of this, from the reporting I’ve seen, appears to be a rehash of some of the allegations that have been made by lawyers for some of the detainees.”
Mr McClellan said the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had full access to the camp.
The ICRC says it visits the camp every two-to-three months for six weeks and helps detainees remain in contact with their families.
“We have complete access,” said Simon Schorno, an ICRC spokesman in Washington, and added that recommendations were made to the camp commanders and the authorities in Washington but these were kept confidential.
A US State Department official reiterated that it was holding the inmates “in full compliance with international law and obligations.”
source: http://www.dawn.com/2006/02/17/top5.htm 17feb2006
WASHINGTON — The White House rejected a scathing United Nations report yesterday that says the United States should shut down its prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and either release or put all the detainees on trial.
Only a handful have appeared before military tribunals, including Omar Khadr, the only Canadian held there.
The 54-page report blasts the "arbitrary detention" of some 500 suspected terrorists, while taking aim at the special military tribunal system, saying the U.S. government "operates as judge, prosecutor and defence counsel."
Secretary General Kofi Annan backed the report, saying Washington should close the prison as soon as possible.
"I think sooner or later there will be a need to close the Guantanamo (camp), and I think it will be up to the government to decide, and hopefully to do it as soon as is possible," Annan said.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan dismissed the report, by five human rights experts and 18 months in the making, as a "rehash" of allegations from lawyers for some of the detainees.
"We know that these are dangerous terrorists. They are trained to provide false information," he said.
A lawyer for Khadr, 19, said the report provides an opportunity for Canada to take a stand.
"My hope is that Canada will now feel it can join the rest of the international community in speaking out to condemn Guantanamo and the military tribunals," said Muneer Ahmad. "The White House has backed itself into a corner. What's more interesting to me is what Canada now does. This strengthens their hand in protecting one of their own citizens."
Only a handful of prisoners, including Khadr, have been formally charged and have made appearances at hearings on the American naval base at the southeast tip of Cuba since the camp opened in early 2002.
Charged with murdering an American medic in a grenade attack and aiding al-Qaida in Afghanistan, Khadr was captured in 2002 and sent to Guantanamo that October, just after he turned 16.
The UN report said photos and testimony from former Guantanamo prisoners revealed many were shackled, chained, hooded and beaten. The use of prolonged isolation, dogs, extreme temperatures and sleep deprivation amounts to torture, said the experts.
The prisoners "are entitled to challenge the legality of their detention before a judicial body," they said in a statement, "and to obtain release if detention is found to lack a proper legal basis."
The findings were based on interviews, public documents, media reports, lawyers and a questionnaire filled out by the U.S. government.
The five investigators were appointed by the UN Human Rights Commission. They worked independently and were not paid, although their expenses were covered by the UN.
source: http://winnipegsun.com/News/World/2006/02/17/pf-1447621.html 17feb2006
NEW YORK — Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Thursday said the United States should close the prison at Guantanamo Bay for terror suspects as soon as possible, backing a key conclusion of a U.N.-appointed independent panel.
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 panel's report, released Thursday in Geneva, said the United States must close the detention facility ''without further delay'' because it is effectively a torture camp where prisoners have no access to justice.
Annan told reporters he didn't necessarily agree with everything in the report, but he did support its opposition to people being held ''in perpetuity'' without being charged and prosecuted in a public court. This is ''something that is common under every legal system,'' he said.
''I think sooner or later there will be a need to close the Guantanamo [camp], and I think it will be up to the government to decide, and hopefully to do it as soon as is possible,'' the secretary-general told reporters.
The 54-page report summarizing a probe by five U.N. experts accused the United States of practices that ''amount to torture'' and demanded detainees be allowed a fair trial or be freed. The panel, which had sought access to Guantanamo Bay since 2002, refused a U.S. offer for three experts to visit the camp in November after being told they could not interview detainees.
Annan said the report by a U.N.-appointed independent panel was not a U.N. report but one by individual experts. ''So we should see it in that light,'' he said.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the report will be presented to the U.N. Commission of Human Rights, which appointed the panel, when it convenes on March 13 in Geneva.
Manfred Nowak, the U.N. investigator for torture who was a panel expert, told the Associated Press in Geneva that Guantanamo detainees ''should be released or brought before an independent court.''
''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,'' he said. AP
source: http://www.suntimes.com/cgi-bin/print.cgi?getReferrer=http://www.suntimes.com/output/terror/cst-nws-gitmo17.html 17feb2006