U.N. panel slams U.S. on detainee practices

May 20, 2006|By TODD RICHISSIN | TODD RICHISSIN,SUN REPORTER

A United Nations panel investigating torture sharply criticized the United States yesterday, urging that the detention center operated by the Pentagon at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, be closed, and that interrogation techniques the panel said led to the death of several prisoners be ended.

The U.N. Committee Against Torture's 11-page report, released in Geneva, said it was concerned about reports of "rendition," in which terror suspects are handed from the U.S. to countries where torture is reported to be common.

U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton, in an interview after a speech to a group in Baltimore, dismissed the report as an "unfair piece of anti-American propaganda, and sadly something we're getting from many U.N. committees." He said the report was unprofessional and replete with inaccuracies. Asked to name the errors, he said that the practice of renditions was "misdescribed."

"I've been told this is one of the longest reports the committee's ever written," Bolton said after addressing about 400 members of the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs. "What about North Korea? What about Iraq under Saddam Hussein?"

The U.N. panel, in past years, sharply criticized both countries.

Yesterday's report on the United States was prepared by a panel of 10 special investigators, or rapporteurs, who make periodic reports on compliance with the 1984 International Convention Against Torture, which the United States has signed.

The committee's recommendations carry no enforcement measure, but they placed the U.N. panel in line with many of the United States' European allies, who have criticized interrogation practices and the years-long imprisonment at Guantanamo of people who have not been formally charged with any crimes.

"The [United States] should take immediate measures to eradicate all forms of torture and ill-treatment of detainees by its military or civilian personnel, in any territory under its jurisdiction," the report said.

It also criticized the use of sexual humiliation, the use of dogs to instill fear and "waterboarding," in which an inmate is held underwater and experiences the feeling of drowning. More than two dozen American officials appeared before the panel May 5 and May 8 to answer the panel's questions about Guantanamo Bay, renditions and treatment of detainees before yesterday's report was completed..

John B. Bellinger III, the State Department's legal adviser, said yesterday that the panel failed to take into account much of what the United States told them during the hearings.

"It is unfortunate they have overwhelmingly focused on a very small number of incidents and not taken into account the overall record of the United States," he said, according to the Associated Press. "The report could just as easily [have] been written before we appeared."

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that "we're a little bit disappointed" with the U.N. report "because we don't think the commission really took into account all the information provided to it, in terms of changes in policy, changes in laws, changes in procedures."

The report seemed to make clear that the panel was citing not only abuses but also the structure of the institutions that the United States government established to deal with terrorism suspects after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The panel said it was "concerned" that prisoners were held for indefinite periods without sufficient legal safeguards in the Guantanamo Bay detention center, opened to hold al-Qaida, Taliban and other suspects after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. About 490 prisoners are held.

The United States "should cease to detain any person at Guantanamo Bay and close this detention facility, permit access by the detainees to the judicial process or release them as soon as possible," the report said.

Yesterday, American officials described a melee that occurred Thursday at Guantanamo, when two inmates attempted to commit suicide by taking drugs and two others apparently faked suicide attempts to draw the attention of guards.

Military officers there said guards needed about an hour to subdue about 10 inmates, and resorted to using a shotgun that fired hard rubber balls.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said yesterday that prisoners at Guantanamo receive "every consideration consistent not only with the law, but the needs of safety and security," and that "everything that is done in terms of questioning detainees is fully consistent with the boundaries of American law."

Snow noted that President Bush has said he would like to close the facility but that such a move would not take place until the Supreme Court decides whether the detainees should face civilian or military trials.

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