E.U., U.N. Criticize U.S. On Gitmo

A detainee holds prayer beads by a fence inside the medium security portion of Camp Delta detention center, at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba, Sept. 19, 2006. The United States currently holds about 14,000 detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo, according to the Pentagon.
AP/Photo reviewed by U.S. military
Human rights violations at the Guantanamo Bay detention center and Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison have "diminished" America's standing in the world, the European Union's anti-terror chief said Friday.

Gijs de Vries, the EU's counterterrorism coordinator, told international experts at a one-day conference on terrorism in Prague that such violations "make it difficult to win the hearts and minds of Muslims." "Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo ... have diminished American standing in the world," he said.

De Vries spoke a day after United Nations human rights investigators in Geneva criticized the United States for failing to take steps to close the Guantanamo Bay military prison for terror suspects, which they say facilitates torture and violates international law.

According to the Pentagon, about 14,000 detainees, apprehended in Afghanistan and Iraq, are being held at Guantanamo Bay.

The Red Cross said Wednesday its representatives will travel to Guantanamo to visit 14 high-level detainees connected to the Sept. 11 attacks, the USS Cole bombing or the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The detainees - recently transferred from CIA custody to Guantanamo - will be made available to the Red Cross around Oct. 1, U.S. military officials said.

In the first U.N.-sanctioned inquiry into U.S. practices at Guantanamo, human rights experts also criticized the Bush administration for a proposed law they said might permit torture in certain circumstances.

An agreement on the outlines of that law was reached Thursday on Capitol Hill, winning praise from President Bush and Senate Republicans, but criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union, which is calling on Congress to defeat the bill.

In Geneva Thursday, a report on Guantanamo and its 450 detainees was presented to the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council, a summary of which was released earlier this year.

"We note with the greatest concern that the government has not taken any steps to close Guantanamo," the rights experts said in a joint statement read by Algerian Leila Zerrougui, a specialist on arbitrary detention. "Indeed, a new block has been built and is set to open this month."

The United States responded by saying it would like to one day close Guantanamo, but first needs to find alternative means of protection from suspected terrorists. It criticized the allegations as poorly founded and said detainees are treated humanely.

The experts criticized President Bush's proposal on a new law regarding how to treat dangerous terrorism subjects, saying it failed to uphold the absolute prohibition on torture and "might permit abuses depending on the circumstances."

Zerrougui said the proposed bill would ensure that detainees are still denied minimum standards for fair trials.

Warren Tichenor, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, criticized the experts for asserting "without real evidentiary support, conclusions they had clearly already reached."

"There is little indication that they considered seriously the voluminous information provided in writing by the U.S. government," Tichenor told the council, of which the United States is only an observer. "By contrast, the report treats second- and third-hand allegations from press reports and contacts with attorneys for the detainees as true."

The panel had sought access to Guantanamo Bay since 2002, but refused a U.S. offer for three experts to visit the camp in November after being told they could not interview detainees. They launched their investigation regardless after saying they had reliable accounts that suspected terror detainees being held there have been tortured.