Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the U.S. government is not inclined to grant United Nations special rapporteurs access to prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. The investigators have made such access a condition for accepting the secretary's invitation to visit the facility.
Secretary Rumsfeld says the government is not concerned about any report the U.N. rapporteurs might make from interviews with prisoners. But he indicated that the International Committee of the Red Cross has been allowed free access to the Guantanamo facility and its detainees, because the organization has a strict confidentiality rule.
"The ICRC has been doing it for a great many years and has had complete and total access ever since Guantanamo was opened and so we're not inclined to add [to] the number of people who are given that extensive access," said Mr. Rumsfeld.
Secretary Rumsfeld says he was not personally involved in the decision not to grant the U.N. investigators access to the prisoners, but that other officials of the Defense Department had input into a government-wide decision-making process.
"I'm not involved in the decision," he added. "That is a decision that the government of the United States has got to address because it's a precedent that applies across the government."
Last Friday, Secretary Rumsfeld invited the U.N. special rapporteurs on detention, torture and religious freedom for a one-day visit to Guantanamo. The invitation followed months of negotiations. A Pentagon spokesman said the conditions for the visit would be similar to those for members of the U.S. Congress and the media who have visited the facility, and noted that this is an exception to the Defense Department's long-standing policy of having the International Committee of the Red Cross as the only international organization allowed to send inspectors to Guantanamo.
The detention facility has been widely criticized by human rights groups, based on claims of torture and other forms of mistreatment made by detainees and their lawyers. The U.S. government has denied the torture claims, and says the detainees are treated well. On Tuesday, Secretary Rumsfeld called a hunger strike by prisoners a publicity stunt, and said the prisoners are participating in rotation to ensure that the strike continues. The strike has been going on for several months, and a spokesman says that currently 24 of the 27 participants are being fed internally against their will by medical staff. There are just over 500 detainees at the facility.
On Monday, the U.N. rapporteurs, who operate independently under the auspices of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, accepted the invitation to visit Guantanamo, even though they had wanted to bring two other investigators with them and spend more time at the facility. But they said they could not go unless the U.S. government changed one aspect of the invitation, and allowed them to meet privately with prisoners. They said such access is a basic requirement of their Terms of Reference, and that they insist on it in any country they visit.
The special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, expressed optimism that the United States would agree to the request, but on Tuesday Secretary Rumsfeld indicated that it would not.