- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 16, 2006

NEW YORK — U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said yesterday that the United States should close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for terror suspects as soon as possible, backing a key conclusion of an independent panel appointed by the United Nations.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan rejected the call to shut the camp, saying that the military treats all detainees humanely and that “these are dangerous terrorists that we’re talking about.”

The panel’s report, released Wednesday in Geneva and first reported in the United States by The Washington Times on Monday, said Washington must close the detention facility “without further delay” because it is effectively a torture camp where prisoners have no access to justice.

Mr. Annan told reporters that he didn’t necessarily agree with everything in the report, but that he supported its opposition to people being held “in perpetuity” without being charged and prosecuted in a public court. This is “something that is common under every legal system,” he said.

“I think sooner or later there will be a need to close the Guantanamo [camp], and I think it will be up to the government to decide, and hopefully to do it as soon as is possible,” Mr. Annan said.

In Strasbourg, France, the European Parliament also renewed its calls for the detention center to be closed. Human rights group Amnesty International said the report was only the “tip of the iceberg.”

The 54-page report, summarizing an investigation by five U.N. specialists, accused the United States of practices that “amount to torture” and demanded that the detainees be allowed a fair trial or be freed. The panel, which had sought access to Guantanamo since 2002, refused a U.S. offer for three specialists to visit the camp in November after being told they could not interview detainees.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the U.N. report “clearly suffers from their unwillingness to take us up on our offer to go down to Guantanamo to observe firsthand the operations.”

Mr. McClellan said, “It’s a discredit to the U.N. when a team like this goes about rushing to report something when they haven’t even looked into the facts. All they have done is look at the allegations.”

Mr. Annan said the report was by an independent panel and was not a U.N. report, and “so we should see it in that light.”

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the report will be presented to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights when it convenes March 13 in Geneva.

Manfred Nowak, the U.N. investigator for torture and a member of the panel, said from his office in Vienna, Austria, that the detainees at Guantanamo “should be released or brought before an independent court.”

The United States is holding about 490 men at the military detention center. They are accused of links to Afghanistan’s ousted Taliban regime or to al Qaeda, but only a handful have been charged.

The report’s findings were based on interviews with former detainees and lawyers, public documents, press reports and questions answered by the U.S. government.

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