Voice of America & Human Rights Watch – 2006-05-20 23:43:09
UN Anti-Torture Panel Calls on US to Close Guantanamo Bay
GENEVA (May 19, 2006) — United Nations Committee Against Torture says the United States should close its detention facility at the naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The panel of independent experts Friday, also expressed concern about reports of secret US detention facilities holding suspected terrorists overseas.
In addressing reports of torture by US personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.N. panel said the United States should end all forms of torture, investigate allegations promptly and thoroughly, and prosecute those responsible.
Washington has denied torturing detainees, saying the United States believes everyone is entitled to humane treatment, and that freedom from torture is an inalienable right.
White House spokesman Tony Snow Friday noted that President Bush has already said he wants to close the Guantanamo facility, but is waiting for a Supreme Court ruling on whether inmates can face military tribunals. He stressed that the United States has made sure that detainees are provided with food, clothing and other basic necessities, and have the opportunity to worship.
The Bush administration sent a team of diplomats to appear before the U.N. committee earlier this month to defend treatment of foreign terrorism suspects.
The committee’s 10 members are Senegal, Egypt, the United States, Chile, Spain, Cyprus, Ecuador, Denmark, Russia and China.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.
UN Torture Committee Critical of US
Human Rights Watch
The Committee against Torture repudiated every argument made by the Bush administration to justify its controversial detention and interrogation policies. Washington should seize this opportunity to end these illegal practices and regain the moral high ground in its fight against terrorism.
— Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch
GENEVA (May 19, 2006) — The United Nations Committee against Torture today issued a strong and thorough critique of the US record on torture. Human Rights Watch urged the United States to adopt the committee’s recommendations.
Of note, the committee called upon the United States to close all secret prisons, hold accountable senior military and civilian officials who authorized, acquiesced or consented to acts of torture committed by their subordinates, and end its practice of transferring detainees to countries with known torture records. The committee also criticized the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and called for its closure. The committee rejected US claims that the Convention against Torture did not apply to US personnel acting outside of the United States or during wartime.
“The Committee against Torture repudiated every argument made by the Bush administration to justify its controversial detention and interrogation policies,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “Washington should seize this opportunity to end these illegal practices and regain the moral high ground in its fight against terrorism.”
The committee also criticized practices that were the subject of its last review in 2000, including the practice in the United States of housing children in adult jails and prisons, and the prolonged isolation of prisoners housed in so-called “supermax” prisons. The committee expressed concern that executions by lethal injection could be accompanied by severe pain and suffering.
The committee asked the United States to report in one year on compliance with a number of its recommendations, including its recommendation that the US close Guantanamo Bay, register detainees captured in the fight against terrorism, and end its practice of reliance on “diplomatic assurances” – unmonitored and unenforced promises from a government – to transfer individuals to countries with known records of torture.
The Committee against Torture is an international body of experts that monitors state compliance with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Conclusions and Recommendations issued on May 19, 2006 were in consideration of the second periodic report of the United States to the committee.
Human Rights Watch urges the United States to seriously review the committee’s Conclusions and Recommendations and promptly institute the changes in policy and practice recommended by the committee.
For the first time since the Bush administration launched its global campaign against terrorism, the United States this week will answer internationally for its record on torture. On May 5 and May 8, the United Nation’s Committee Against Torture will question some 30 high-level officials from the Departments of State, Justice, Homeland Security, and Defense on US compliance with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
The US officials will be speaking on the record about Washington’s human rights performance in the “war on terror,” and this session in Geneva may offer a more comprehensive accounting than usual of the Bush administration’s views on these issues.
What is the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the Convention against Torture)?
The Convention against Torture is a multinational treaty that prohibits at all times and under all circumstances the use of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. The convention defines torture as:
any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
Among other things, the convention prohibits the practice of sending persons to states where they are likely to be tortured, and the use of evidence obtained through torture. It requires that states take measures to prevent the use of torture, hold torturers accountable, and provide effective remedies for claims of torture and abuse.
The United States ratified the Convention against Torture in 1994, 10 years after its unanimous adoption by the U.N. General Assembly. The convention has been ratified by 141 countries.
What is the Committee Against Torture?
The Committee Against Torture is the international body of experts responsible for monitoring compliance with the convention. It consists of 10 independent experts elected by states parties and meets in twice-yearly sessions to review the records of countries that have ratified the convention.
One year after a state becomes a party to the Convention against Torture, and every four years thereafter, it is required to submit a report to the committee on its compliance with the convention.
The United States submitted its first report in 1999, four years overdue. The second report, originally due in 2000, and which the committee agreed to extend to 2001, was sent to the committee in 2005 and supplemented with an addendum in January of this year.
The committee also publishes its broader interpretations of the Convention against Torture and the prohibition against torture and other ill-treatment in “general comments” on thematic issues.
How does the review process work?
Upon receiving a country’s report, the committee sends the sending country a list of follow-up questions. This year, the committee sent the United States an unusually long list of 59 questions that cover a wide range of practices implemented by the United States as part of its “war against terrorism.”
The committee is seeking answers about the US role in “disappearing” persons (holding persons in unacknowledged or secret detention); the practice of rendition (sending persons to other countries without legal process); and the lack of accountability of the military chain of command for abuse of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, and at Guantanamo Bay, among other issues.
At briefing sessions on May 5 and May 8, the delegation of US officials will formally respond to the committee’’s questions. Human Rights Watch will be attending the open hearing and monitoring the exchanges between the US delegation and the committee members.
What is notable about the committee’s questions this year?
The last time the United States was before the committee, it was primarily questioned about its domestic practice, such as prison conditions and ill-treatment of criminal suspects by the police. This time, the committee has again questioned the US about these important domestic issues, but has added to the agenda a panoply of questions about the use of torture and other coercive interrogation methods as part of the fight against terrorism and in armed conflict.
What happens at the end of this review?
After consideration of the US responses, the committee will issue a list of concluding observations, listing positive aspects, subjects of concern, and recommendations. The committee expects to release its concluding observations on Friday, May 19.
Is the United States alone in answering questions from the Committee?
No. This session, the committee will also be considering reports from Peru, Georgia, Guatemala, Qatar, Togo, and South Korea. In the past, the Committee has expressed strong concerns to a range of other countries, including China, Egypt, Spain, Sweden and Uzbekistan, about many of the same practices it will be inquiring of the United States – such as abusive interrogation techniques, secret and indefinite detention, and rendition to torture.
US: Bush Should Close Guantanamo Now
Human Rights Watch
(New York, May 9, 2006) – President George W. Bush should shut the Guantanamo Bay detention facility now and not wait for a Supreme Court ruling, Human Rights Watch said today.
In an interview with the German public television station ARD that was broadcast Sunday night, President Bush said for the first time that he would like to close the facility at Guantanamo. But Bush undercut his remarks by referring to a pending case in the US Supreme Court, stating that the Supreme Court first had to decide whether the detainees there should be brought before civilian courts or military commissions.
“There is no reason for the Bush administration to wait for a court decision before closing Guantanamo,” said Joanne Mariner, Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program director at Human Rights Watch. “Any detainees implicated in criminal acts can and should be charged now. The rest should be released.”
In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, a case currently before the Supreme Court, the justices will be ruling upon the legality of the military commissions established by the Bush administration to try so-called enemy combatants held at Guantanamo. A ruling in the case is expected in June. But Human Rights Watch said the administration can and should remedy Guantanamo’s problems before the court’s decision in Hamdan.
President Bush’s statements on German television were important in several respects. First, they were an implicit acknowledgment that Guantanamo has been a failure. Second, and equally important, they were the first time that Bush has recognized that the detainees should face trial, rather than be held in indefinite detention.
In acknowledging that Guantanamo should be closed, Bush belatedly joins a host of other world leaders, including some of his closest allies. Others who have called for Guantanamo’s closure include British Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Among the problems that led to Guantanamo’s notorious international reputation was the physical abuse of detainees. At least 60 detainees have made credible allegations of serious abuse at Guantanamo, as documented in a recent joint report by several human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch.
One detainee, Mohammed al-Qahtani, was reportedly subjected to weeks of sleep deprivation, isolation and sexual humiliation in late 2002 and early 2003. Human Rights Watch has obtained an unredacted copy of al-Qahtani’s interrogation log, and believes that the techniques used during al-Qahtani’s interrogation were so abusive that they amounted to torture. Another detainee, Mohamedou Slahi, has made similar allegations about interrogation abuse.
The coercive interrogation techniques practiced at Guantanamo severely complicate the possibility of future trials. When a confession is coerced from a criminal suspect, it can be difficult to prove, as due process requires, that his later prosecution is not based on the fruits of that coercion.
“The coercive methods used at Guantanamo have not only been abusive but also counterproductive in terms of putting the detainees on trial,” Mariner said.
Although Bush’s remarks suggest that the Guantanamo detainees should end up in court, the administration has indicated to date that only a fraction of the detainees will be prosecuted. Only 10 of the 480 detainees now held at Guantanamo have been charged before military commissions. The chief prosecutor, Air Force Col. Morris Davis, said two weeks ago that charges were expected soon against about two dozen others. Administration officials have said in the past that they expect up to 70 to 80 detainees to be charged.
Hundreds more detainees are apparently not slated for prosecution. Instead, they are being held because they allegedly engaged in hostilities or were allegedly connected to groups like the Taliban or al-Qaeda.
Human Rights Watch is also concerned that some detainees face return to countries where they may face torture or other abuse. At present, there is no meaningful mechanism to allow detainees to challenge their possible return to a country where they would be subject to mistreatment.
Guantanamo currently holds almost 500 detainees, including large numbers from Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Afghanistan. The United States is also believed to be holding three dozen or more detainees in long-term incommunicado detention at undisclosed detention facilities outside the United States, in violation of international legal prohibitions against enforced disappearances.
(April 20, 20060 — The British government has formally asked the United States for the release from Guantánamo Bay of a London man who says he was incarcerated after helping MI5 keep track of an alleged Muslim extremist.
The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, has written to his US counterpart, Condoleezza Rice, demanding the release of Bisher al-Rawi, from Kingston-upon-Thames. Mr Rawi has been held by the US at Guantánamo without charge or trial for three years after being arrested in Gambia during a business trip.
The letter from Mr Straw represents a major U-turn for the British government, which had refused to help Mr Rawi, an Iraqi citizen who has been resident in the UK for 17 years.
Mr Rawi took the British government to court last month, claiming he had been helping MI5 to keep track of Abu Qatada, who western intelligence agencies claim provides spiritual support to al-Qaida. Government officials did not deny that Mr Straw’s change of heart was to do with Mr Rawi’s links with MI5. It is also alleged that British security services passed false information to the US which led to the arrest of Mr Rawi and other men he was travelling with when they arrived in Gambia in 2002.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We have written to Condoleezza Rice asking for his release and repatriation to the UK.”
Mr Straw and Ms Rice discussed the British view that Guantánamo should close during the US secretary of state’s recent visit to Blackburn and Liverpool.
Mr Rawi’s lawyer in the US, Brent Mickum, said: “I see this as a positive development. I’m only left to ask the question what took so long. Did they need the judicial challenge to do the right thing?”
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