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UN Experts Call For Probe of Secret Detention Sites

Lisa Schlein

The authors of a global study on secret detentions linked to counterterrorism are calling for an independent and transparent investigation into all hidden facilities.  Consideration of the study at the United Nations Human Rights Council was postponed from March under pressure by countries that found it too controversial.  

The study shows secret detention is not a new phenomenon.  The authors say this practice did not begin after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.  It says secret detention was widely used in Latin America in the 1970s.

Special U.N. investigator on torture, Manfred Nowack, notes countries all over the world detain people in secret facilities for a variety of general reasons, and in particular to fight terrorism.  

"I think why 9/11 is important is that after 9/11 under the lead of the United States of America, also highly democratic countries became involved in a practice that, up to that time, was more known to (occur) in military or other forms of dictatorships," said Nowack.  "Having said that, I would say that with President Obama taking office, the United States has fundamentally changed its policy."  

Special U.N. investigator on countering terrorism, Martin Scheinin, says the CIA program of secret detention has been discontinued.  But, he notes there still are patterns of secret detention in conflict zones.

He says people are held there temporarily or for longer periods without access to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

"And then there is a pattern by certain police forces, often those related to intelligence agencies to detain people in their own detention facilities for purposes of interrogation and torture until the day of the official registration of deprivation of liberty," said Scheinin.  "So, that is a pattern in certain countries and, of course, in all countries that practice disappearances.  Disappearances start with secret detention and then often end up with the execution, the extra-judicial execution of the person."  

The study notes thousands of people have been kept in secret detention, in so-called black sites that were specially constructed on foreign soil.  They allegedly were used for the purpose of applying prohibited methods of interrogation.

The study names Thailand, Romania, Poland and Lithuania as a few of the places where the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency set up these facilities.

The investigators say the report received a better than expected reception by the U.N. Human Rights Council, given its controversial nature.  They say the delegates treated it seriously and asked substantive questions.

However, they agree certain countries remained hostile to its content.  They include Egypt, Syria, Algeria, and Russia.  They say the United States supported the report, with a few reservations.

Besides calling for independent investigations into places of secret detention, the study says victims should receive reparations and perpetrators of these crimes should be held accountable.

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