New York — A draft U.N. report on the detainees at Guantanamo Bay concludes that the U.S. treatment of them violates their right to physical and mental health, and, in some cases, constitutes torture.
It also urges the United States to close the military prison in Cuba and bring the captives to trial on U.S. territory, charging that Washington’s justification for the continued detention is a distortion of international law.
The report, compiled by five special envoys to the United Nations who interviewed U.S. officials, former prisoners, and detainees’ lawyers and families, is the product of a year-and-a-half investigation ordered by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. The team did not have access to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
Its findings — notably, a conclusion that the violent force-feeding of hunger strikers, incidents of excessive violence used in transporting prisoners and combinations of interrogation techniques “must be assessed as amounting to torture” — are likely to stoke criticism of the detention facility.
More than 500 people captured abroad since 2002 as “enemy combatants” are detained at Guantanamo.
“We very, very carefully considered all of the arguments posed by the U.S. government,” said Manfred Nowak, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, one of the envoys. “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 draft report, reviewed by the Los Angeles Times, has not been officially released; comments and clarifications from the U.S. government are being incorporated.
In November, the Bush administration offered the U.N. team the same tour of the detention facility given to journalists and members of Congress, but it refused to allow the envoys access to prisoners. Because of that, the U.N. group declined the visit.
The International Red Cross is the only party allowed by the U.S. government to have access to prisoners and monitor their physical and mental health, but the organization is forbidden from making its findings public.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. J.D. Gordon, a spokesman at the Pentagon, said the Defense Department would not comment on U.N. matters.
The report is not legally binding, but human-rights and legal advocates said they hoped it would add weight to similar findings by rights-monitoring groups and the European Parliament.
“I think the effect of this will be to revive concern about the government’s mistreatment of detainees, and to get people to take another look at the legal basis,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.
The report concludes that some of the treatment of detainees meets the definition of torture under the international Convention Against Torture: the acts are committed by government officials, with a clear purpose, inflicting severe pain or suffering against victims in a position of powerlessness.
The simultaneous use of several interrogation techniques — prolonged solitary confinement, exposure to extreme temperatures, noise and light; forced shaving and other techniques that exploit religious beliefs or cause intimidation and humiliation — constitute inhumane treatment and, in some cases, reach the threshold of torture, according to the report.
Nowak said the U.N. team was “particularly concerned” about the force-feeding of hunger strikers through nasal tubes that detainees claimed were brutally inserted and removed, causing intense pain, bleeding and vomiting. “It remains a current phenomenon,” he said.
International Red Cross guidelines state: “Doctors should never be party to actual coercive feeding. Such actions can be considered a form of torture and under no circumstances should doctors participate in them on the pretext of saving the hunger striker’s life.”
The five U.N. envoys are independent experts appointed by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights to examine arbitrary detention, torture, the independence of judges and lawyers, freedom of religion, and the right to physical and mental health. The five had each, under separate mandates, been following the situation in Guantanamo Bay since it opened in January 2002. They made the decision in June 2004 to do a joint report and asked the U.S. government for access to all detention centers.