Let the U.N. in

November 03, 2005

The Bush administration is wrong to bar U.N. human rights inspectors from talking to prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It is appropriate for the independent inspectors to investigate the scores of allegations of mistreatment at the U.S. naval base, as well as to clarify the status of men who still are not charged with any crime.

The United States agreed to be subject to such investigations when it signed the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment a decade ago. Other countries, including China, Russia and, most recently, Nepal, have opened their prison doors and let their prisoners speak.

Former U.S. prisoners have told of torture and deprivation at Guantanamo, as well as at bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. The International Red Cross, which has access to the Cuba facilities on a promise of secrecy, has reported that conditions are abysmal there, according to leaked documents. Internal FBI memos describe torture there first-hand. The Pentagon has investigated the reports, it says, and found little. It is time for someone besides the jailer to judge the jail.

Bad physical treatment is not the only problem at Guantanamo. The 500 or so prisoners still at the base have been in legal limbo for nearly four years. Only four have been charged with any crime; the rest have no idea why they are there, what evidence there is against them, when a trial or hearing might start. Base officers have said that at least half of those held never posed a threat to the United States.

Lawyers, who only this year gained access to their clients, report that many prisoners have lost hope in their futures and faith in American justice. Small wonder they stop eating; at least two dozen remain on hunger strike and others are expected to rejoin them as Ramadan ends.

The administration argues it doesn't need to treat these men according to U.S. laws because they are neither captives nor prisoners of war. Part of its argument rests on the question of whether the U.S. base is "U.S. soil"; the administration argues it isn't. That would make it "international soil," all the more reason to allow international inspectors in.

Guantanamo should be closed; its prisoners should be tried in civilian or military courts, found guilty or not guilty and sentenced or released. Until then, the base is subject to the same rules as every other part of the world, including international observation and public report.

The United States has nothing to hide. If people are doing ill in its name, Americans wish to know - and will seek a remedy.

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