Three freed British terror suspects alleged yesterday that they endured brutal treatment and sexual sadism from guards at the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Detainees at Guantanamo were kept naked while being forced to watch videotapes of prisoners who had been ordered to sodomize one another, according to a 115-page report released yesterday by the men's attorneys in New York and London. The lawyers characterized the abuse as "systematic."
The allegations - the most detailed from former Guantanamo detainees - claim that guards harassed and beat detainees and routinely tossed inmates' Qurans into prison toilets. The former detainees, who were released last spring, also told of coerced confessions - some at gunpoint - and of living among snakes and scorpions in the cells.
"What we see time and time again is not a few rogue soldiers but a deliberate decision by high-ranking people in the administration to push as far as they could and well beyond the limits of what is acceptable treatment," Jamie Fellner, a Human Rights Watch lawyer, said at a New York news conference.
The military has repeatedly denied allegations of abuse, saying that offenses like those photographed in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison never happened at Guantanamo. Yesterday, the Pentagon said it was studying the report but refused to comment on its specifics.
Maj. Michael Shavers, a Pentagon spokesman, said in Washington that the United States does not abuse prisoners at Guantanamo.
"The U.S. operates a humane and professional detention operation at Guantanamo that is providing valuable information on the war on terror," he said.
Nevertheless, concern over torture allegations prompted 12 former judges, seven past presidents of the American Bar Association, a former FBI director and more than 100 other legal experts yesterday to call for a thorough investigation of Bush administration memos that explored ways to skirt the laws against torture.
"The most senior lawyers in the Department of Justice, the White House, Department of Defense and the vice president's office have sought to justify actions that violate the most basic rights of all human beings," said the group's statement, signed by 130 officials and lawyers, including former FBI chief William S. Sessions.
The statement cites a series of memos written between early 2002, when the administration decided not to give detainees POW status, and April 2003, when the CIA and military were trying to get more information from captives but were concerned about the legal consequences of any mistreatment.
And, as they convene today in Atlanta, members of the American Bar Association plan to consider a strongly worded condemnation of the Bush administration's treatment of overseas detainees as well as recommendations that would make it easier to prosecute members of the U.S. military and civilians who torture prisoners.
The allegations come as the U.S. military is stepping up hearings for nearly 600 prisoners at the detention center to decide their fate as "enemy combatants." Human rights attorneys have characterized the process as "a kangaroo court" because, among other things, the inmates are not represented by outside counsel.
Military officials started the hearings as the first step toward compliance with a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that said Guantanamo inmates can challenge their detention in court. Each suspect has a U.S. military officer as a "personal representative" at his hearing.
The hearings, which began last week, have gone on outside public view. Six have been completed, the military said. But four of those six detainees refused to cooperate, a military spokesman said.
Today, a handful of reporters in Guantanamo will be able to view the hearings but are under military restrictions to keep the names of suspects private. Certain parts of the testimony will also be classified.
The three Britons released last spring - known as the "Tipton Three" because they came from that town in England's West Midlands - wrote the report with their British attorney, Gareth Peirce.
Wire services contributed to this article. The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.