The Bush administration said Monday a draft United Nations report critical of U.S. policies at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention center for terrorism suspects is based on hearsay and assertion. The report prepared for the U.N. Human Rights Commission alleges practices amounting to torture at the facility and recommends that it be closed.
The State Department says special rapporteurs of the U.N. Human Rights Commission have done commendable work around the world in exposing rights abuses.
But it says that is not the case in the Guantanamo report, which it says is based on hearsay testimony from former prisoners and their lawyers, while the authors passed up an invitation to visit the site and get first-hand information.
The comments followed the release to media outlets of the draft report on Guantanamo, which is due for formal publication at the U.N. commission's next session beginning March 13 in Geneva.
Among other things, the five experts who wrote the report accuse the staff at the detention site of committing acts amounting to torture, including force-feeding of detainees and subjecting them to prolonged solitary confinement.
The draft further accuses the United States of violating detainees' rights to fair trial and freedom of religion, and questioning the legal basis for operating the facility, it recommends that the facility, opened in early 2002, be shut down.
At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack faulted the commission experts for rejecting a U.S. invitation to visit Guantanamo Bay, saying the lack of firsthand testimony fundamentally undermined the accuracy of the findings.
"We made a good-faith offer, based on international obligations as well as our policies," he said. "And we would think that it would be incumbent upon the authors of the report to present as factual a report as possible, that they would have taken us up on the offer to go to Guantanamo Bay. They didn't and as a result we're seeing - we're probably going to see - a report that's based on hearsay and assertion."
The UN investigators said they turned down the U.S. offer, because they were to be denied direct access to prisoners.
Spokesman McCormack said those held at Guantanamo, most of them captured during the U.S.-led invasion of Afganistan, are there for a good reason, and that the presence the facility protects Americans and others from would-be terrorism.
He said the cases of those held are reviewed in a judicial process involving U.S. federal courts.
He acknowledged the use of force-feeding against hunger strikers when needed, but said it is administered by medical professionals in a humane way in accordance with international practice.
Pentagon officials say about 490 prisoners are being held in Guantanamo on suspicion of links to al-Qaida of Afghanistan's ousted Taleban government.
Scores of detainees have been transferred to their countries of origin for release or further detention.
Charges have been filed against 10 detainees, who are to stand trial before U.S. military commissions.