19 May 2006
United States Says U.N. Torture Report Ignored Crucial Data
U.N. committee overstepped its authority calling for Guantanamo closure
Washington – The United States says a U.N. anti-torture report apparently ignored hundreds of pages of documents submitted by U.S. officials, made numerous errors and overstepped its authority by recommending the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
“We are disappointed, despite our extensive work to provide materials to them, that they did not take advantage of that and that they ignored a number of the materials that we gave to them,” John Bellinger, legal adviser to the State Department, told reporters May 19.
Bellinger led a team of more than two-dozen senior U.S. officials to Geneva, Switzerland, May 5-8, to present oral and written reports to the U.N. Committee Against Torture. The exhaustive U.S. presentation included more than 200 pages of written answers to questions that centered on the conduct of U.S. detention operations in military operations around the world. (See related article.)
As a party to the U.N. Convention Against Torture, the United States is required to present a report to the U.N. Committee every four years describing its compliance with the convention, and the written report was filed on schedule a year ago, with a follow-up oral presentation earlier in May in Geneva.
The U.N. committee formally released its findings May 19. In the report, the committee “welcomed” the U.S. statement “that all officials, from all government agencies, including its contractors, were prohibited from engaging in cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” (See related article.)
However, the committee also said it was “concerned by allegations” that the United States “had established secret detention facilities.” The committee also recommended that the United States “cease to detain any person at Guantanamo Bay” and that the United States close the detention facility in Cuba while ensuring that no detainees are released to a country where they would be tortured. (See related article.)
The U.N. committee appeared to have ignored or overlooked much of the written material he submitted, Bellinger told reporters. He also said the committee overstepped its mandate by recommending the closure of Guantanamo.
Bellinger said it was “not a particularly auspicious time for the United States to have to be filing a periodic report before the Convention Against Torture, in the aftermath of Abu Ghraib,” the prison where U.S. troops illegally abused prisoners in 2003 and 2004. (See related article.)
“But we take our obligations seriously, and we did not shy away from going to Geneva,” Bellinger said. In fact, the United States filed the most comprehensive report ever given to the U.N. committee by any government.
“We filed extensive material. We had a good dialogue with the committee, answered their questions as fully as we could,” Bellinger said. “And I think we got a good deal of credit from them at the time for engaging in … extensive and candid dialogue with them.”
The U.N. report does commend the United States for its “exhaustive written responses” and candid dialogue, Bellinger said. The U.N. report, in fact, acknowledges that after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States “is in a complex legal and political environment,” Bellinger said.
“On the downside of the ledger, we are disappointed that despite the fact that the committee acknowledges the extensive materials that we gave to them, that they don't seem to have relied on information that we gave to them in preparing their report,” he said.
“In many ways, it appears that the report was written without the benefit of the materials, the information that we gave them, and, in fact, they seem to have ignored a good deal of the information that we did give to them,” Bellinger said.
This resulted in “numerous errors of fact, just simply things that they've got wrong about what the U.S. law or practice is,” he said.
“The committee also seems to have stretched in a number of areas to address issues that are well outside its mandate and outside the scope of the Convention Against Torture,” Bellinger said. “We know these issues are out there. These are issues that you've all heard before. But we did not think that it's in the scope of this particular committee to go try to address every issue relating to detainees or Guantanamo and try to somehow squeeze it into the mandate of the Convention Against Torture.”
Still, Bellinger emphasized that the United States intends to continue complying with the Convention Against Torture.
“They've asked us to get back in a year to them with answers on some questions, and I'm sure that we will be getting back to them in a year,” Bellinger said. “We do take our obligations seriously under the Convention Against Torture. We think that we are in compliance with our obligations.”
Bellinger said he wanted to acknowledge “that there were very serious incidents of abuse. We've all seen Abu Ghraib. There have been other -- numerous other allegations. There have been other incidents.” But, he stressed, these cases have been investigated, and people have been held accountable for wrongdoing.
“We are endeavoring hard to address all of these issues of abuse,” he said. “The Defense Department, our intelligence agencies have adopted new procedures, new training. We have the McCain amendment. So we have new laws, new procedures, more training in place, and people are being held accountable for the abuses that did happen in the past.”
Responding to a reporter’s question, Bellinger said the United States has no intention of withdrawing from the U.N. anti-torture treaty.
“We certainly would not consider pulling out of the Convention Against Torture,” he said. However, the report “does raise questions about -- When we show up before the committee, prepare an enormous amount of material for them, and they ignore it – whether that has, in fact, been a productive use of our time.”
The materials the United States presented to the U.N. Committee Against Torture are available on the Web site of the U. S. Diplomatic Mission to the United Nations in Geneva.
For more information, see Detainee Issues.
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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