The White House says the U.N. was taken in by terrorists’ claims of torture and abuse.
UNITED NATIONS — The White House on Thursday rejected a United Nations report that says the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention center should be closed and that U.S. treatment of detainees in some cases amounted to torture, calling it a “rehash” of old allegations.
The report concludes that combinations of interrogation techniques, brutal force feeding, and excessive violence in transporting prisoners violated their right to physical and mental health. The report was officially released Thursday, but its contents were reported by The Times on Monday.
The release came as previously unpublished pictures of abused prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad circulated internationally. The two events prompted U.S. officials to emphasize that the American military treats prisoners humanely and to assert that the U.N. team been taken in by disinformation spread by terrorist groups.
“We know that these are dangerous terrorists that are being kept at Guantanamo Bay,” White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said. “They are trained to provide false information, and Al Qaeda training manuals talk about ways to disseminate false information and hope to get attention.”
In addition to detailing allegations of abuse, the report urges the United States to quickly prosecute or release the nearly 500 people who have been held at Guantanamo since 2002 without charge as “enemy combatants.”
In four years, the report notes, the cases of only nine detainees have been reviewed by a military commission, whose validity is still being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The U.S. says those at Guantanamo and other detention centers are not entitled to prisoner of war status because they are terrorists and illegal combatants.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he supported the report’s conclusion that the prisoners should be quickly tried or released. The U.S. should close the prison “as soon as possible,” he said.
The report notes particular concern with the forced feeding of hunger strikers. Detainees said long nasal tubes were brutally inserted and removed twice a day, causing intense pain, bleeding and vomiting.
The U.N.-appointed independent investigator on torture, Manfred Nowak, said this week that detainees’ lawyers had reported a resurgence in early January of intentionally painful forced feedings, a practice the International Red Cross and the World Medical Assn. say amounts to torture.
Lawyer Thomas B. Wilner, who has represented 12 Kuwaiti detainees and visited his clients this month, said the methods helped break a five-month hunger strike. In late December, about 85 prisoners were refusing food to protest their lack of a trial; in January, four remained on strike.
A Pentagon spokesman said this week that prisoners were being treated humanely and were force-fed only to save their lives.
The report is based on an 18-month investigation by five U.N. officials with expertise in examining allegations of arbitrary detention, torture and violations of human rights. The officials, known as rapporteurs, are appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Commission for three-year terms.
In November, the five canceled a long-sought visit to Guantanamo Bay after the U.S. government refused to allow them access to the prisoners. Instead, they based their conclusions on interviews with lawyers and family members of prisoners, former detainees and information provided by the U.S. government.
In their rejection of the report, U.S. officials emphasized the team’s lack of a visit to Guantanamo. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the U.S. had offered the experts a chance to meet with the commander of the joint task force and the medical and interrogation staffs.
They were also offered a chance to visit the cells housing the detainees, and the medical facilities, he said.
“If they were so concerned about those responsible for the force feedings, you would think they would talk to those responsible for the procedures,” he said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross is the only independent organization allowed to visit detainees at Guantanamo and U.S. military bases in Afghanistan and Iraq, under a strict confidentiality agreement.
A 2004 Red Cross report leaked from within the U.S. government found that practices by medical officials at Guantanamo were tantamount to torture. But Red Cross officials would not comment on their observations at Guantanamo to the U.N. team or the media, and the Pentagon has blocked the consideration of their reports in court proceedings.
“We won’t publicly discuss what type of technique is being used for forced feeding and whether it is torture. That’s not the way we operate,” Red Cross spokesman Simon Schorno said. “But the fact that we don’t speak out publicly does not mean we do not raise the issues.”
A letter from the U.S. ambassador in Geneva, Kevin E. Moley, is appended to the report and says the U.S. considers its contents and conclusions “largely without merit” because only the facts that support those conclusions are included in the report.
The U.S. is also “troubled” by the U.N. panel’s analysis of the legal regime governing the detention facility, the letter says.
The U.S. claims exemption from some treaties, notably the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, because Guantanamo is not in U.S. territory.
Times staff writer Paul Richter in Washington contributed to this report.