Correction to This Article
A May 20 article incorrectly said that 41 detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have attempted suicide since 2002. There have been 41 suicide attempts by 25 detainees, a U.S. military official said.

Military Prison's Closure Is Urged

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 20, 2006

UNITED NATIONS, May 19 -- A U.N. anti-torture panel Friday called on the United States to close its prison for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to expressly ban controversial interrogation techniques, and to halt the transfer of detainees to countries with a history of abuse and torture.

The U.N. panel, charged with monitoring compliance with the 1984 Convention Against Torture, which the United States has ratified, also asserted that the CIA imprisonment of suspects in secret detention facilities without access to the International Committee of the Red Cross constituted a clear violation of the treaty.

Bush administration officials countered that the U.N. Committee Against Torture had not given the United States a fair hearing, that it had overreached its authority by calling for Guantanamo's closure, and that its report is riddled with errors and misstatements.

"We acknowledge that there were serious incidents of abuse. We've all seen Abu Ghraib," the State Department's top lawyer, John B. Bellinger III, told reporters. But "clearly our record has improved over the last few years," he said.

The 11-page report was issued one day after two Guantanamo Bay detainees tried to kill themselves by overdosing on antidepressants. The attempts brought to 41 the number of inmates who have tried to commit suicide since 2002, Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of Guantanamo Bay detainee operations, said Friday.

After the unsuccessful suicide attempts, Guantanamo Bay inmates rioted, attacking guards with electric fans and other improvised weapons after a prisoner lured them into a cell by faking an attempt to hang himself. Guards subdued them by firing sponge grenades and five rounds of rubber balls from a 12-gauge shotgun, Harris said.

The U.N. report was a rebuke for the Bush administration and some of the main counterterrorism approaches it adopted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It was delivered as the United States faces increasing pressure from international critics, including U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, to close the Guantanamo Bay prison. The administration has engaged in an internal debate over the fate of the controversial island facility.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday that President Bush has made it clear "he doesn't want the United States to be the world's jailers, that we at some point in the future would very much like to see Guantanamo Bay closed down." But, McCormack added, "at the moment, it's housing some dangerous people."

The U.N. panel, made up of nine international experts, said the United States "should cease to detain any person at Guantanamo Bay and close this detention facility, permit access by the detainees to judicial process or release them as soon as possible."

The committee urged the Bush administration to establish a 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. It also pressed the administration to "promptly, thoroughly, and impartially investigate" senior military or civilian officials responsible for "authorizing, acquiescing or consenting" to torture committed by subordinates.

The report urged the United States to disclose and publicly condemn the existence of any secret prisons. The Washington Post reported last year that the CIA has maintained secret facilities in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. The panel said the United States "should ensure no one is detained in any secret detention facility under its de facto effective control." It said: "Detaining persons in such conditions constitutes, per se, a violation of the convention."

There are about 460 foreign prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. About 287 detainees have left the facility, including 192 who were released and 95 who were transferred to more than 16 countries. The United States recently transferred 15 Saudi nationals to the Saudi government's custody and sent five Chinese Muslims to Albania.

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