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UN Accepts US Invitation to Visit Guantanamo

Three UN special investigators have decided to accept an invitation from the United States to visit the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Still, each side is presenting conditions for the long-awaited visit to the facility where more than 500 detainees are being held in connection with the war on terrorism.

The visit has been under consideration since the UN investigators first requested permission to visit the detainees in June 2004 to check allegations of human rights abuse, including torture and arbitrary detention.

Last Friday the U.S. government formally extended an invitation to three of the five officials. Manfred Nowack, the special investigator on torture, says the group met Saturday and decided to accept the invitation, despite the fact that only three of the five were invited. In the spirit of compromise, Mr. Nowack says, the U.N. team also decided to accept a second condition limiting the visit to one day. But he says the group will not compromise on terms of the visit itself.

"These include unrestricted access to detainees and private interviews with them. We are sure that the US government will fully understand and finally agree that UN investigators are not in a position to accept the sort of guided tour to Guantanamo that has been arranged in the past for members of Congress and media representatives. Private interviews with detainees are a non-negotiable precondition for any serious fact finding," he said.

Mr. Nowack says more than 20 nations, including China, have accepted the terms of reference and the investigators cannot apply a double standard when dealing with the United States.

The United States says the detainees do not fall under the Geneva Convention rules because they are enemy combatants in the war on terror that, in principle, continues.

The investigators operate independently under the United Nations Human Rights Commission. They plan to visit Guantanamo Bay December 6.