GENEVA (AP) – The United States should bring all prisoners being held in Guantanamo Bay to an independent trial or release them, the United Nations said in a report released Thursday.
The 54-page report, summarizing an investigation by five U.N. experts, called on the U.S. government “to close down the Guantanamo Bay detention center and to refrain from any practice amounting to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”
But the U.S. ambassador to U.N. offices in Geneva, Kevin Moley, responded that the investigation had taken little account of evidence provided by the United States, and that the five U.N. experts rejected 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,” Moley wrote in a response that was included at the end of the report.
A preliminary version of the report was leaked earlier this week before it included U.S. comment.
The U.S. is currently holding about 490 men at the U.S. military detention center on the southeastern tip of Cuba. The detainees are accused of having links to Afghanistan’s ousted Taliban regime or the al-Qaida terror group, though only a handful have been charged since the mission opened in January 2001.
The five U.N. experts who authored the report had sought invitations from the United States 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 organization keeps its findings confidential, reporting them solely to the detaining power. Some reports have been leaked by what the organization calls third parties.
The U.N. 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 U.S. government.
The treatment of detainees during transport and the use of violence when they resisted amounted to torture, the U.N. 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. “Such treatment amounts to torture, as it inflicts severe pain or suffering on the victims for the purpose of intimidation and/or punishment,” the report said. 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 United States and Cuba did not limit Washington’s obligations under international human rights law toward those detained there.
Many of the allegations have been made before, but the document represented the first inquiry launched by the 53-nation U.N. Human Rights Commission, the global body’s top rights watchdog.
The group of U.N. investigators included Leila Zerrougui, an expert on arbitrary detention; Leandro Despouy, experts on judicial independence; Manfred Nowak, expert on torture; Asma Jahangir, an expert on freedom of religion; and Paul Hunt, expert on physical and mental health. The five were appointed by the commission to the three-year project. They worked independently, with expenses covered but receiving no payment from the U.N. The five come from Argentina, Austria, New Zealand, Algeria and Pakistan.
The U.S., which is a member of the commission, has criticized the body itself for including members with poor human rights records.