Permanent Scars From Gitmo?

U.N. human rights experts Friday expressed concern about possible "irreversible psychiatric symptoms" developing among suspected terrorists entering a fourth year of virtual solitary confinement at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

At the prison camp, the cases of two more terror suspects were examined by an Administrative Review Board Friday as part of an ongoing process to determine whether detainees were properly held as "enemy combatants."

The experts on arbitrary detention noted allegations that detainees at Guantanamo may be subject to "inhuman and degrading treatment."

Human rights officials have expressed concern about the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo.

A secret report obtained by The Associated Press found that guards punched some detainees, tied one to a gurney for questioning and forced a dozen to strip from the waist down. One squad was all-female, traumatizing some Muslim prisoners, according to the report that summarized what investigators saw when they viewed 20 hours of videotapes of the squads.

"The conditions of detention, especially of those in solitary confinement, place the detainees at significant risk of psychiatric deterioration, possibly including the development of irreversible psychiatric symptoms," the U.N. experts said in a statement. "Many of the inmates are completing their third year of virtually incommunicado detention, without legal assistance or information as to the expected duration of their detention."

The experts noted some positive developments at Guantanamo in 2004, including the release of a number of inmates. "These developments are, however, insufficient to dispel the serious concerns," they said.

U.S. authorities said they were treating the Guantanamo prisoners consistent with the Geneva Conventions, though they say the accords do not apply to the detainees, claiming they are "enemy combatants" as opposed to prisoners of war.

The experts noted that the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq both ended more than 18 months ago, yet prisoners are still being detained in violation of the Third Geneva Convention, which states that prisoners of war must be released "without delay after the end of hostilities."

"The legal basis for the continued detention of the Guantanamo Bay inmates is therefore unclear," they said. "In any event, many of them were arrested in countries which were not parties to any armed conflict involving the United States."

No immediate comment was available from the U.S. Mission to U.N. offices in Geneva, but American officials have previously said the detainees were being held because they are combatants against the United States in the global war on terrorism and not limited to any national conflict.

At Guantanamo, the cases of the two terror suspects came a day after the military ordered the continued detention of 25 more prisoners and the release of three others.

So far, 22 review board hearings have taken place at U.S. base in Cuba, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Daryl Borgquist, a Pentagon spokesman. The boards can free prisoners if they determine they no longer pose a threat to the United States or hold significant intelligence value.

The government has ordered 387 detainees to remain held as enemy combatants. Six others have been ordered released, though only one

a Pakistani — has been sent home.

There are now about 545 detainees being held at the U.S. prison camp, all accused of ties to the al Qaeda terrorist network or Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime.

By Sam Cage