UNITED NATIONS -- The White House rejected yesterday a U.N. report stating that the Guantanamo Bay detention center should be closed and that U.S. treatment of detainees in some cases amounted to torture, calling it a "rehash" of old allegations.
The report, released yesterday, prompted U.S. officials to emphasize that the U.S. military treats prisoners humanely and to assert that the U.N. team fell for disinformation spread by terrorist groups.
"We know that these are dangerous terrorists that are being kept at Guantanamo Bay," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. "They are trained to provide false information, and al-Qaida training manuals talk about ways to disseminate false information and hope to get attention."
The report concluded that combinations of interrogation techniques, brutal force-feeding and excessive violence in transporting prisoners violated their right to physical and mental health and, in some cases, constituted torture.
It also urged the United States to quickly try or release the nearly 500 prisoners who were picked up in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and held without charge as "enemy combatants" at the military prison in Cuba since 2002. In four years, the report noted, only nine detainees have had their cases reviewed by a military commission, whose validity is still being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The United States says detainees at Guantanamo Bay and other detention centers are not entitled to the status "prisoners of war" because they are terrorists and illegal combatants.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he supported the report's key conclusion that the prisoners should be quickly tried or released, saying yesterday that the United States should close the prison "as soon as possible." The report was based on an 18-month investigation by five independent experts appointed by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights to examine arbitrary detention, torture, the independence of judges and lawyers, freedom of religion, and the right to physical and mental health.
The U.N. envoys canceled a long-sought visit to the detention facility in November after the U.S. government refused to allow them access to the prisoners. Instead, they based their conclusions on interviews with lawyers and family members of prisoners, former detainees, and information provided by the U.S. government.
The International Committee of the Red Cross is the only independent organization allowed to visit detainees at Guantanamo and U.S. military bases in Afghanistan and Iraq under a strict confidentiality agreement. A 2004 Red Cross report leaked from within the U.S. government found that practices by medical officials at Guantanamo were tantamount to torture. But Red Cross officials would not comment on their observations at Guantanamo to the U.N. team or the news media, and the Pentagon has blocked the consideration of their reports in court proceedings.
"We won't publicly discuss what type of technique is being used for forced feeding and whether it is torture. That's not the way we operate," said spokesman Simon Schorno. "But the fact that we don't speak out publicly does not mean we do not raise the issues."
The report noted particular concern with forced feeding of hunger strikers through long nasal tubes that detainees claimed were brutally inserted and removed twice a day, causing intense pain, bleeding and vomiting. The U.N.-appointed independent expert on torture, Manfred Nowak, said earlier this week that detainees' lawyers had reported a resurgence in early January of intentionally painful twice-a-day force feeding, a practice that the International Red Cross and the World Medical Association say amounts to torture.
In their rebuttal of the report, U.S. officials emphasized that the U.N. team had not gone to Guantanamo. Adam Ereli, a deputy spokesman at the State Department, said that the United States offered the experts a chance to meet with the commander of the joint task force and the medical and interrogation staffs. They were also offered an opportunity to visit the cells housing the detainees and the medical facilities.
A letter appended to the report from the U.S. ambassador in Geneva, Kevin Edward Moley, states that the United States considers the report's contents and conclusions as "largely without merit" because it selectively includes only the facts that support its conclusions.
Maggie Farley writes for the Los Angeles Times.