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U.N. Urges Closure of Guantanamo Detention Facility
White House spokesman Tony Snow said President Bush has "expressed his preference that, in fact, we at some point be able to close down Guantanamo."
The United States had sent a large delegation to Geneva -- 25 to 30 people to answer the U.N. committee's questions. The State Department submitted a 184-page defense of its treatment of detainees in the war on terrorism.
In the U.N. report, described as an "advance unedited version," the committee said it welcomed the U.S. commitment that officials from all U.S. government agencies, including contractors, "are prohibited from engaging in torture at all times and in all places." It also welcomed the U.S. pledge not to transfer terror suspects to countries where they would "more likely than not" endure torture.
But the committee expressed skepticism about the U.S. commitment to comply with such pledges, citing concern about the adequacy of a U.S. policy to obtain "diplomatic assurances" against torture from countries with poor rights records.
It called on the U.S. to "cease" the transfer of "suspects, in particular by its intelligence agencies, to states where they face the real risk of torture."
The panel challenged a U.S. assertion that some elements of the anti-torture convention are not applicable in times of war. It wrote that the United States should ensure that the convention "applies at all times, whether in peace, war or armed conflict."
State Department lawyer Bellinger said the U.N. committee erred in concluding that detaining prisoners indefinitely without filing charges violates the Convention Against Torture treaty.
"Well, that's just simply legally inaccurate," Bellinger said. "There is nothing in the convention that says anything about holding people indefinitely."
For that reason, he said, the committee acted outside the scope of its mandate in calling for the Guantanamo facility to be shut down.
Snow, at the White House briefing today, said the Guantanamo detainees "get three meals a day "in accordance with Muslim law."
They also get "diet, water, medical care, clothing, shoes, shelter, showers, soap and toilet articles, the opportunity to worship, Korans and prayer mats being handed out to all who need them," Snow said. "They get correspondence materials. They're allowed to send and receive mail. They can receive packages of food and clothing.
"In short, we are according every consideration consistent with not only the law, but the needs of safety and security at Guantanamo to the people who are there."
The U.N. panel also weighed in on American domestic prison policies, citing abuses in U.S. prisons, including inadequately investigated sexual assaults by prisoners on other prisoners, use of electro-shock devices, use of excessive force and "the extremely harsh regime imposed" in so-called super-maximum U.S. prisons.
And it urged the Bush administration to support the International Criminal Court, which the United States has refused to join.