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UN Investigators Request Visit to Guantanamo Detention Facility

  • Lisa Schlein

Four special U.N. human rights investigators have renewed a request they made one year ago to the U.S. government to be allowed to visit terror suspects detained at Guantanamo Bay and other facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The U.N. investigators chose the first anniversary of their joint appeal to express their dismay that the U.S. government has not responded to their requests to visit terror suspects detained at Guantanamo Naval Base, on the eastern end of Cuba.

The U.S. government says the detainees are illegal combatants and has allowed only the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit Guantanamo prisoners, under the rules of the Geneva Conventions.

Most of the 520 men detained at Guantanamo were captured in Afghanistan during the fall of the Taleban regime in late 2001.

U.N. Special Investigator on Torture Manfred Nowak says the requests were based on allegations of arbitrary detention, torture, and violations of rights to health and due process. The United States has conducted investigations into charges of abuse at the Guantanamo facility and the U.N. team says many of the allegations come from declassified U.S. government documents.

Detainee washes himself before praying inside his cell in Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba
Spokeswoman for the U.S. mission to U.N. offices in Geneva, Brooks Robinson, says U.S. officials consistently have denied violating the principle of humane treatment of detainees in the war on terrorism. She said U.S. policy prohibits and condemns torture and American personnel are required to follow this policy and applicable law.

Mr. Nowak says the United States has refused to guarantee him the right to speak to detainees in private.

"That is why we feel we should inform the public that we are very disappointed that a country that always was very, very strong and positive about high human rights standards all over the world, and which is also reminding other states that they should actually cooperate fully with the special mechanisms of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, itself is not living up to these standards," he said.

Ms. Robinson says the U.N. request is being addressed, discussed and reviewed in the United States, but a response has been delayed because the U.S. review process is "thorough and independent" and involves several agencies.

The U.N. special investigator on the right to good physical and mental health, Paul Hunt, says he has received reports of deterioration in the mental health of many detainees, including allegations of dozens of suicide attempts.

He says the best way to check the accuracy of these allegations is to be allowed to visit Guantanamo and to see conditions for himself.

"To those who argue that the detainees are bad people, I reply that whether they are good or bad the rule of law extends to them because they are human beings," Mr. Hunt said. "That is what distinguishes a system of government based on the rule of law from one that is based on the arbitrary exercise of power."

Mr. Nowak says the investigators are focusing on Guantanamo, but, he says they also would like to visit other places of detention under U.S. authority in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

"We also would be very interested to know officially from the U.S. government where there are these places of detention where persons suspected of terrorism are held," he said. "This information is not yet available to the public. And, this also raises an issue of enforced disappearances."

The human rights experts say they will conduct a joint investigation on the situation of detainees at Guantanamo even if they are not allowed to visit.

They say their report will be completed by the end of the year and submitted to next year's Human Rights Commission.

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