U.N. Urges Closure of Guantanamo Detention Facility

By Colum Lynch and Bill Brubaker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, May 19, 2006; 5:48 PM

A U.N. anti-torture panel today issued a rebuke of Bush administration counter-terrorism policies today, calling for the closing of the Guantanamo detention facility in Cuba and a halt to the transfer of suspected terrorists to countries where they may face torture.

The committee, charged with monitoring the 1984 Convention Against Torture that the United States has ratified, also stated that the imprisonment of suspects in secret detention facilities constitutes a clear violation of the treaty.

The 11-page report released today marked the culmination of the most exhaustive international public review of U.S. anti-terror tactics since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

U.S. officials quickly branded the report unfair, unrealistic and, in some respects, inaccurate.

State Department legal advisor John Bellinger defended the U.S. practice of holding suspected terrorists without filing charges.

"In any kind of a war, you hold people indefinitely until the end of the conflict without charge," he said.

Bellinger also said the committee's call to close the Guantanamo facility is impractical.

"The committee report here suggests that we need to close Guantanamo but we can't return anybody to a country with a bad human rights record," he told reporters at a briefing in Washington. "Well, most of the people in Guantanamo came from countries with bad human rights records, so that's a very nice recommendation, but not terribly practical."

If these prisoners can't be returned to their home countries, "then our societies will end up being stuck with them," Bellinger said.

The U.N. committee, made up of nine experts, urged the Bush administration to establish a federal law criminalizing torture and to eliminate some of its most controversial interrogation techniques, including sexual humiliation, the use of dogs to induce fear and "water boarding," a practice that involves simulating the sensation of near-drowning.

Bellinger said that while the United States has confirmed "very serious incidents of abuse" of prisoners several years ago, the U.N. committee ignored the progress that U.S. officials have made in curbing such incidents.

"We've all seen Abu Ghraib. There have been other -- numerous other allegations," Bellinger said. "There have been other incidents. We have investigated those. We've held people accountable, but . . . clearly our record has improved over the last few years."

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