The United States Friday reaffirmed its desire to close its detention site for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, once legal questions about the detainees' status are resolved. The comments followed release of a U.N. committee report calling for the closure of the facility.
Officials are reiterating the Bush administration's wish to eventually close the controversial detention facility.
But in the meantime, they are expressing disappointment over the U.N. report which they say wrongly concludes that indefinite confinement at Guantanamo amounts to torture.
The United Nations Committee Against Torture Friday joined a number of governments including some key U.S. allies in calling for the closure of the Cuba facility, set up in 2002 to house terrorist suspects after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.
Among other things, the U.N. panel said the United State should close Guantanamo and any secret detention sites it may be operating, and refrain from handing the inmates over to countries where they could face physical and mental abuse.
Responding to the report, both White House and State Department spokesman denied any U.S. abuse or torture of prisoners, at Guantanamo or anywhere else.
They also cited a recent statement by President Bush that he would like to close the Guantanamo site, but that he is awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on whether inmates can face military tribunals.
The State Department's Sean McCormack said the United States does not want to be the world's jailer. But he said the Guantanamo facility currently houses some very dangerous people and that critics of United States do not want to deal with that fact. "You hear these arguments. You hear these criticisms about U.S. actions at Guantanamo Bay. But you don't hear any solutions, or you don't hear a willingness on the part of others to step up and to take on some of this burden. So, I have to, sorry I have discount some of those arguments when you don't have a willingness on the part of some of those very same people who offer those criticisms to offer solutions," he said.
State Department Legal Adviser John Bellinger, who led the U.S. delegation at hearings by the U.N. committee in Geneva earlier this month, told reporters there were factual errors in some of the report conclusions, and that it overlooked remedial steps taken by the United States in response to previous criticism:
"In general, we think they have not acknowledged the substantial changes that have taken place both in our laws, in our procedures, in the conditions at Guantanamo, in training and oversight that have occurred over a four-year period of time. There has been substantial change in our operations," he said.
Bellinger said that the committee oversteped its mandate by recommending that Guantanamo be closed. He also said indefinite detention does not constitute torture under international law.
The State Department Adviser said despite disappointment with the report, the United States will continue its cooperation with the panel, and has no intention of pulling out of the 1984 U.N. Convention Against Torture under which it operates.