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UN report calls for closure of Guantánamo

From Guardian Unlimited

A UN inquiry into conditions at Guantánamo Bay has called on Washington to shut down the prison, and says treatment of detainees in some cases amounts to torture, UN officials said yesterday.

The report also disputes the Bush administration's legal arguments for the prison, which was sited at the navy base in Cuba with the purpose of remaining outside the purview of the US courts, and says there has been insufficient legal process to decide whether detainees continued to pose a threat to the US.

The report, prepared by five envoys from the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and due for release tomorrow, is bound to deepen international criticism of the detention centre. Drafts of the report were leaked to the Los Angeles Times and the Telegraph newspapers, but UN envoys refused to comment yesterday.

During an 18-month investigation, the envoys interviewed freed prisoners, lawyers and doctors to collect information on the detainees, who have been held for the last four years without access to US judicial oversight. The envoys did not have access to the 500 prisoners who are still being held at the detention centre.

"We very, very carefully considered all of the arguments posed by the US government," Manfred Nowak, the UN special rapporteur on torture and one of the envoys, told the LA Times. "There are no conclusions that are easily drawn. But we concluded that the situation in several areas violates international law and conventions on human rights and torture."

The report lists techniques in use at Guantánamo that are banned under the UN's convention against torture, including prolonged periods of isolation, exposure to extremes of heat and cold, and humiliation, including forced shaving.

The UN report also focuses on a relatively new area of concern in Guantánamo - the resort to violent force-feeding to end a hunger strike by inmates. Guards at Guantánamo began force-feeding the protesters last August, strapping them on stretchers and inserting large tubes into their nasal passages, according to a lawyer for Kuwaiti detainees who has had contact with the UN envoys.

The effort to break the hunger strike has accelerated since the UN envoys produced their draft, with inmates strapped in restraint chairs for hours and fed laxatives so that they defecate on themselves.

"The government is not doing things to keep them alive. It is really conducting tactics to deprive them of the ability to be on hunger strike because the hunger strike is an embarrassment to them," said Thomas Wilner, an attorney at the Washington firm Shearman & Sterlin, who represents several Kuwaiti detainees.

The report adds to a body of evidence about mistreatment. A report by the International Committee of the Red Cross last year said interrogation techniques there were "tantamount to torture".

Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch, said: "This is going to solidify the already highly negative views around the world about what the United States is doing in Guantánamo, and since the Red Cross complaints are more than a year old, it will suggest to a lot of people around the world that the problems are not solved."

However, the report did not seem to carry weight in Washington. A White House spokesman said it was an al-Qaida tactic to complain of abuse, while the Pentagon does not comment on UN matters. But a Pentagon official yesterday insisted there had been no attempts to break a hunger strike with punitive measures. "All detainees at Guantánamo are being treated humanely and are being provided with excellent medical care," he said.

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