- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 5, 2006

At Guantanamo, says Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, “there are hundreds of people who want to kill Americans.” Yet, five independent investigators for the U.N. Human Rights Commission report that the detainees interrogation center there should be closed. They have conducted an 18-month investigation, and none of the five have any other connections to those members of the U.N. Human Rights Commission who themselves are human-rights abusers. This report will continue to reverberate.

Manfred Nowak, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, is the author of the report, which concluded that a range of decidedly coercive interrogation techniques at Guantanamo “must be assessed as amounting to torture.” Mr. Nowak added the team was “particularly concerned” about the brutal force-feeding of desperate detainees engaged in hunger strikes after three to four years of being imprisoned without seeing the evidence against them, among other disregard for international law.

This investigation was first reported in the Los Angeles Times (Feb. 13), which significantly called attention to these guidelines of the International Red Cross: “Doctors should never be party to actual coercive feeding. Such actions can be considered a form of torture and under no circumstances should doctors participate in them on the pretext of saving the hunger striker’s life.” But doctors are involved in the force-feeding at Guantanamo.

The report strongly recommends that the United States close the detention center, whose abuses, I add, have been a useful recruiting tool for terrorists around the world, and finally try the prisoners in U.S. courts. (The Supreme Court has also required, in the 2004 Rasul v. Bush decision, that these detainees be provided real, not sham, due process.) Responding to the findings of the five independent investigators, White House spokesman Scott McClellan, echoing the president and Mr. Rumsfeld, declared: “We know that these are dangerous terrorists being kept at Guantanamo Bay. They are people determined to harm innocent civilians.” (Mr. Rumsfeld also has claimed “they are the best-trained, most vicious killers on the face of the Earth.”)

But the nonpartisan National Journal, after studying Defense Department court documents in response to habeas-corpus petitions by prisoners’ lawyers, found that more than half of those in 132 of the files are not even accused of fighting this country or its allies on any battlefield. And an exhaustive report by the Seton Hall Law School in New Jersey discloses that only eight percent of all detainees at Guantanamo have been connected to al Qaeda.

In repeatedly condemning the U.N. report, however, the president and others on his team have scornfully emphasized that these five investigators never even traveled to Guantanamo.

Indeed, after trying for a year and a half to get permission to come, last November Mr. Nowak and his colleagues were finally offered a one-day visit to the prison, but with the unyielding condition that they would not be allowed to speak privately with any of the prisoners. (Only the International Red Cross is allowed to see them; but — a very big “but” — the Red Cross cannot make public any of its factual determinations.)

The U.N. investigators, of course, refused to go to Guantanamo without being able to interview the very subjects of their inquiry. Whom would they have seen if they had accepted our government’s cagey offer? To begin with, they would have met the military authorities, who would surely say they faithfully obey the president’s order to treat the prisoners humanely and never, ever torture them. The U.N. team could also have spoken with whatever lawyers for the detainees were present. But if the investigators put in their report only what advocates for the prisoners claimed instead of talking to the prisoners themselves, they would have been accused of manifest bias.

Our government’s gag rule on the International Red Cross, and its insistence that the investigators not see the prisoners, make clear how afraid this administration is after Abu Ghraib of any further revelations of what is being done at Guantanamo to scandalize our name around the world, and not only among our enemies.

Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, one of the very few African leaders with the integrity and courage to publicly denounce Robert Mugabe for his merciless repression of the people of Zimbabwe, says, as quoted in the Feb. 19 issue of Newsweek: “It is disgraceful and one cannot find strong enough words to condemn what Britain and the United States and some of their allies have accepted about the conditions of Guantanamo (as the U.N. inquiry has reported).”

Mr. Nowak emphasizes that the inquiry into America’s treatment of its prisoners is not over. “The investigation is going far beyond Guantanamo,” he told The Washington Post on Feb. 14. He has asked the Bush administration “to cooperate with us on various places where suspected terrorists are held: Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and elsewhere.” “Elsewhere” includes the secret CIA “black sites” prisons among the CIA’s “special powers” authorized by President Bush on Sept. 17, 2001.

When will Congress appoint an independent prosecutor? The existence of these prisons is now known, but not what is being done there all over the world, to our shame.

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