Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Close Guantanamo Now, UN Tells White House

Published on Tuesday, February 14, 2006
by the Independent / UK
by David Usborne and Ben Russell

A UN report is expected to call on the United States to close its Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba without delay and transfer the near-500 supposed "enemy combatants" held there to American soil to guarantee them access to fair trials.

A leaked draft of the document, written over 18 months by five independent experts in international law appointed by the UN Commission on Human Rights, says the inmates at Guantanamo are being denied their rights to mental and physical health to a degree that sometimes amounts to torture.

The draft, reported by the Los Angeles Times, raises particular concern about the treatment of inmates on hunger strike, which involves forcible insertion of feeding tubes through the nasal cavity and into the stomach, excessive violence during transportation and interrogation techniques that "must be assessed as amounting to torture".

Yesterday, the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, arrived in Washington DC for a long-scheduled meeting with President George Bush at the White House. The report's findings are likely to worsen tensions between Mr Annan and Mr Bush.

The final version of the report will be released in Geneva tomorrow or Thursday, one of the authors, Manfred Nowak, confirmed. The delay is allow for formal responses by the US government to its many criticisms.

The US has come under a barrage of international criticism over its operations at Guantanamo Bay. More than 750 people have been detained there since 2002. They are designated by the US as "enemy combatants" and denied all legal rights, including access to lawyers.

The International Red Cross is the only organisation given access to them, but it is forbidden to report publicly on their condition. Last November, the US administration offered the five UN experts a tour of the centre similar to those periodically organised for reporters and members of the US Congress. They declined after they were told they would not be able to interview prisoners.

The US continues to assert that it is acting within international law to hold the prisoners at Guantanamo. The formal statement read: "The law of war allows the United States - and any other country engaged in combat - to hold enemy combatants without charges or access to counsel for the duration of hostilities.

"Detention is not an act of punishment, but of security and military necessity. It serves the purpose of preventing combatants from continuing to take up arms against the United States."

But the UN experts believe the primary reason for the US to keep the prisoners at Guantanamo is for interrogation. Techniques employed by the US that are seen by the experts as crossing the line into torture include long periods of solitary confinement for prisoners, exposure to extremes of temperature and forced shaving and other humiliations that contravene captives' religious beliefs.

The British Government is facing pressure to secure the release of nine British residents who are still being held in Guantanamo Bay. The men, many of whom have been granted political asylum, have lived in Britain for many years, but have not been granted citizenship even though some have British wives and children.

Twenty MPs, including a dozen Labour backbenchers, have signed a Parliamentary motion demanding the closure of Guantanamo Bay, and denouncing the detention of its 520 inmates as "a symbol of injustice and abuse in the US administration's war on terror".

© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited


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