15 February 2006
U.S. Officials Call Draft U.N. Detainee Report Flawed, Unbalanced
Investigators did not visit facility, interviewed al-Qaida, Taliban members
By David I. McKeeby
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington – The draft of a United Nations report on detainees in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba is flawed, unbalanced, and should be viewed with skepticism, says a top State Department official.
The draft report, said John Bellinger, the department’s senior legal adviser, was based on “statements from members of al-Qaida or the Taliban who've been released from Guantanamo.” Bellinger briefed reporters in Washington on February 15.
The U. N. envoys who headed the 18-month investigation at the behest of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights declined an offer to visit Guantanamo Bay itself, Bellinger said. Instead, panel members reached their findings by interviewing former detainees, their families and lawyers.
The draft report alleges mistreatment of detainees and recommends closure of the facility.
The detention center opened in 2002 to hold individuals captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere as part of the international war against terrorism.
“The detainees are individuals who we largely captured on the battlefield fighting in Afghanistan or having fled to Pakistan, people who were found and trained in al-Qaida training camps,” Bellinger said.
There are currently about 500 detainees at the Guantanamo Bay facility, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
To date, approximately 200 individuals have been released or returned to their home country, said Bellinger, who also noted that approximately 10 percent of those released are believed to have rejoined al-Qaida or the Taliban as active combatants.
“I don't know whether we can believe all of the things that they have said. We know that members of al-Qaida have been trained to state that they have been mistreated,” Bellinger said.
Bellinger said that U.N. rapporteurs were invited to visit Guantanamo to see the facilities and receive briefings on current operations.
The U.N. representatives rejected the U.S. offer, Bellinger said, because they wanted to be able to interview individual detainees.
Bellinger said that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is the sole organization with authorized access to all of the detainees at Guantanamo.
While acknowledging that the ICRC’s reports are confidential, Bellinger said, “President Bush has made clear that he wants Guantanamo to be a transparent place.” He said more than 1,000 reporters and several hundred members of Congress personally have visited the detainment facility.
“We felt that it would be inappropriate to have multiple organizations all coming down, all to interview the detainees,” Bellinger said.
The U. N. group also rejected an offer by the United States to provide briefings in Washington, said Bellinger.
Among the allegations in the report is that the involuntary feeding of detainees on self-imposed hunger strikes amounts to torture.
Bellinger rejected this claim, likening the procedure to that commonly used in hospitals. “Our doctors there are following the highest level of medical ethics and applying exactly the same procedures that they would apply to any American anywhere in the United States,” he said.
“Clearly, the report would have been much more balanced and, in fact, objective and accurate had the people actually bothered to come to Guantanamo, or even come to Washington to get the information,” Bellinger said.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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