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UN: Committee Urges Closure Of Guantanamo Bay

By Eugen Tomiuc

PRAGUE, May 19, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- A UN report released today calls for the United States to close its detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and to end the use of secret prisons in its war on terror.

The UN Committee Against Torture also pressed Washington to eradicate "all forms of torture and ill-treatment" by its personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq and to investigate allegations thoroughly, prosecuting any staff found guilty. 

The United States had told the committee during hearings earlier this month that Washington is absolutely committed to "eradicate torture and to prevent cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment worldwide."

The committee, a panel of 10 independent experts on the UN Convention Against Torture, added that detainees released from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba or any secret detention center should not be returned to any state where they could face a "real risk" of being tortured.

End Cruelty And Torture, UN Says

The report's criticisms of the United States were "very much in line" with expectations, says Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch (HRW). 

The U.S. delegation had during the hearings defended the country's treatment of foreign terrorism suspects held abroad, saying there had been "relatively few actual cases of abuse."

U.S. State Department lawyer John B. Bellinger III, who led the American delegation, on May 5 urged the committee "not to believe every allegation" they heard. Bellinger, who described the accusations leveled at Washington in the media and other fora as "innumerable," said the allegations about "U.S. military or intelligence activities have become so hyperbolic as to be absurd."

However, the committee made clear how seriously it viewed some of the problems highlighted in the report, saying some abuses had "resulted in the death of some detainees during interrogation" and calling on Washington to "rescind any interrogation technique" that amounted to torture or cruel treatment.

It specifically cited sexual humiliation, mock drownings, and the use of dogs to induce fear.

HRW's Jennifer Daskal particularly welcomed the report's call for civilian interrogators to be held accountable, saying that during the hearings the United States continually stated that "its civilian operations, its CIA intelligence operations, were not a matter for the committee to inquire into."

Daskal said the report "is asking of the United States to finally hold the people accountable, all the people accountable for torture and abuse, up the chain of command, and it's asking for oversight in monitoring of all of the United States personnel, not just its military."

Washington's Reponse

The question is whether the United States will heed the calls.

U.S. officials in Geneva declined to make any immediate comment.

However, HRW's Daskal believes "what the international community says makes a difference" to Washington's conduct of the war on terror, continuing that "we've seen this with Guantanamo Bay, with President [George W.] Bush saying last week that he's seriously contemplating closing Guantanamo, and a slow trickle of releases of prisoners that kind of sped up over the last couple of weeks."

While she does not "anticipate an immediate change in policy," she believes that "over time, the repeated critiques and the repeated challenges affect the U.S. and affect its policies, and force it to reevaluate and reformulate."

Copyright (c) 2006. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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