U.N. rights envoys condemn Bush plan on interrogation
Sep 21, 4:05 PM (ET)
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) - United Nations human rights
investigators said on Thursday that legislation
proposed by President Bush for tough interrogations of
foreign terrorism suspects would breach the Geneva
In a statement to the U.N. Human Rights Council, the
five independent envoys also said Washington's
admission of secret detention centres abroad pointed
to "very serious human rights violations in relation
to the hunt for alleged terrorists."
They again called for the closure of the U.S.
detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where
hundreds of foreign terrorism suspects are being held,
alleging continued violations of international law on
torture and arbitrary detention.
Despite U.S. declarations of intent to shut
Guantanamo, Washington had done nothing yet and was
even planning to open a new cell bloc at the end of
this month, they said.
"We call on the government to close down the
Guantanamo Bay detention center and, until that time,
to refrain from any practice amounting to torture,
cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment," they said.
The statement was read out by Leila Zerrougui, the
Algerian chairwoman of the U.N. working group on
She is one of the five investigators who have tried
since June 2004 to visit Guantanamo detainees.
Washington has said it would allow three of them to go
for one day, but not to see prisoners privately, a key
demand of the investigators.
In reply, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva Warren
Tichenor reiterated Washington's desire to close
Guantanamo but said that this could only be done when
other countries agreed to take some of the prisoners
being held there.
He regretted the investigators' decision not to make
the visit and accused them of basing their report on
"second- and third-hand allegations."
"LEGALISE" RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
The Bush administration says that with the transfer of
14 detainees, including one of the alleged masterminds
of September 11, to Guantanamo earlier this month
there are no more suspects being held in secret jails.
But Manfred Nowak, the U.N. special rapporteur on
torture, told journalists that others remained
unaccounted for, which he said amounted to the banned
crime of "enforced disappearances."
"We have a number of further individuals that have
been detained and we do not know where they are," he
said, adding that the Council should give the five
envoys a mandate to investigate all past and present
On Wednesday, a U.S. House of Representatives panel
endorsed Bush's bill for tough interrogations and
trials of foreign terrorism suspects. Washington says
such techniques have helped obtain information that
has prevented attacks.
The other special envoys report on freedom of
religion, physical and mental health and the
independence of judges.
The five said that the bill, which has still to be
approved by the full House and the Senate, amounted to
an attempt to "legalise" rights violations that have
been condemned in Guantanamo and elsewhere.
The proposed legislation was "in breach with United
States' human rights obligation as identified in our
report and with the requirement of article 3 of the
Geneva Conventions," they said, referring to the 1949
treaty which lays down basic guarantees of protection
The plan would allow the U.S. government to arrest and
detain indefinitely people who were not involved in
any armed conflict and torture was not banned
outright, they said.