‘Try Them Or Free Them’

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THE United States must bring all prisoners being held in Guantanamo Bay to an independent trial or release them, the United Nations has said in a report. 

The 54-page report, summarising an investigation by five UN experts, on Thursday called on the US government ‘to close down the Guantanamo Bay detention centre and to refrain from any practice amounting to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.’

But the US ambassador to UN offices in Geneva, Kevin Moley, responded that the investigation had taken little account of evidence provided by the United States, and that the five UN experts rejected an invitation to visit Guantanamo.

In a response that was included at the end of the report, Moley said: ‘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.’ 

The five UN experts who authored the report had sought invitations from the US to visit Guantanamo Bay since 2002. Three were invited last year, but refused in November after being told they could not interview detainees.

Only the International Committee of the Red Cross has been allowed to visit Guantanamo’s detainees, but the organisation keeps its findings confidential, reporting them solely to the detaining power.

A preliminary version of the report was leaked earlier this week before it included the US comment.

The US is currently holding about 490 men at the US military detention centre on the southeastern tip of Cuba.

The detainees are accused of having links to Afghanistan’s ousted Taleban regime or al-Qaeda, though only a handful have been charged since the mission opened in January 2001.

Some reports have been leaked by what the organisation calls third parties.

The UN report’s findings, which were being made public, were based on interviews with former detainees, public documents, media reports, lawyers and a questionnaire filled out by the US government.

The treatment of detainees during transport and the use of violence when they resisted amounted to torture, the UN report said.

Although the investigators did not visit Guantanamo, they said photographic evidence – corroborated by testimony of former prisoners – showed that detainees were shackled, chained, hooded and forced to wear earphones and goggles.

They said prisoners were beaten, stripped and force shaved if they resisted.

The report said: ‘Such treatment amounts to torture, as it inflicts severe pain or suffering on the victims for the purpose of intimidation and/or punishment.’ 

Some of the interrogation techniques used at the detention facility itself – particularly the use of dogs, exposure to extreme temperatures, sleep deprivation for several consecutive days and prolonged isolation – caused extreme suffering, the report said.

  

The simultaneous use of such methods was ‘even more likely to amount to torture,’ it said.

It also concluded that the particular status of Guantanamo Bay under the international lease agreement between the US and Cuba did not limit Washington’s obligations under international human rights law toward those detained there.