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September 22, 2006

US Isolated on Guantánamo


by Gustavo Capdevila

GENEVA - A team of United Nations human rights experts set forth sharply worded arguments Thursday against the U.S. detention center at the naval base at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba and announced that investigations into secret detention centers would continue in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries.

The five investigators urged the UN Human Rights Council to press the United States to put an end to the violations of the human rights of the 450 detainees being held in Guantánamo without due process.

Since 2002, when the first special rapporteurs' investigations into abuses in Guantánamo began, the United States has evaded sanctions from the Commission on Human Rights that stopped functioning in April and the Human Rights Council that replaced it in June.

But that invulnerability could end in the Council's current period of sessions, which opened Monday and runs through Oct. 6.

Special rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak, one of the five experts who drafted the report on Guantánamo, noted that all of the members of the Council who spoke after the presentation of the report expressed their support for its content.

The only dissonant voice was that of the United States, which does not form part of the 47-member Council, and is present as an observer.

It is now up to the Council to act, said Leandro Despouy, special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, who said that if the Council keeps silent on the question, it will hurt the credibility of the United Nations.

The delegation from Finland said in the name of the European Union that while it supports the war on terrorism, respect for human rights is essential.

But the regimen followed in Guantánamo has not only involved serious violations of the human rights of the detainees, but also a defeat in the judicial fight against terrorism, Despouy told IPS.

The methods used in Guantánamo have neither led to convictions of the accused nor to the release of the innocent, said the rapporteur.

The report presented by Leila Zerrougui, the chair of the UN working group on arbitrary detention, mentioned that since the first observations were set forth by the group of experts, no significant progress has been made to prevent serious violations of the rights of the detainees in Guantánamo.

On the contrary, the George W. Bush administration's recent admission that secret detention centers do indeed exist points to extremely serious abuse in the "alleged hunt for terrorists" and requires urgent attention from the Council, said Zerrougui.

The UN rapporteurs said they felt encouraged by the U.S. Supreme Court June 30 ruling, which held that the military tribunals that the U.S. government was using to try terrorism suspects violated both U.S. military law and international law, and by signals from high up in the Bush administration of an intention to close down the prison in Guantánamo.

But, the report adds, not only has the U.S. government failed to take any steps toward closing down the detention center, but it is actually building a new bloc there, to be opened this month.

Warren W. Tichenor, the U.S. ambassador to the UN in Geneva, responded that "the United States has no interest in being the world's jailer, but we can only close Guantánamo if we can still protect ourselves and our allies from the threat posed by the dangerous men held there."

He also said Bush and other high-level officials have stated on a number of occasions that they would like to close down Guantánamo.

The U.S. delegate said the rapporteurs' report asserted, "without real evidentiary support, conclusions they had clearly already reached."

He also told the Council that "There is little indication that they considered seriously the voluminous information provided in writing by the U.S. government. By contrast, the report treats second- and third-hand allegations from press reports and contacts with attorneys for the detainees as true."

Nowak denied that secondhand sources were used, and said the report was based on information from the U.S. government and declassified documents.

Paul Hunt, special rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health, expressed concern over the effects of the human rights violations on the mental condition of the detainees, pointing out that three had committed suicide on June 3.

Special rapporteur on freedom of religion Asma Jahangir said that in her country, Pakistan, she had interviewed two former Guantánamo detainees. The two men had been accused without evidence by Pakistani intelligence agents, who in return for handing them over received a reward from the U.S. military.

Despouy commented that the report by the five experts showed the world what a resounding failure the secret detention centers have been. Whatever the political regime, a leading democracy like the United States or a dictatorship like those seen in the past in Latin America or other regions of the world, it is clear that secret detentions always lead to dire, blatant human rights abuses, he added.

(Inter Press Service)


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