U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Thursday the United States should close its Guantanamo Bay prison for terror suspects as soon as possible, backing a key conclusion of a U.N.-appointed panel.
Annan said he didn't necessarily agree with everything in the report but he did support its opposition to people being held in perpetuity without being charged and giving a chance to explain themselves in a court.
"I think sooner or later there will be a need to close the Guantanamo, and I think it will be up to the government to decide, and hopefully to do it as soon as is possible," the secretary-general told reporters.
The report, summarizing an investigation by five U.N. experts, called on the U.S. government "to close down the Guantanamo Bay detention center and to refrain from any practice amounting to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."
The 54-page report summarizing the probe called on the U.S. government "to close down the Guantanamo Bay detention center and to refrain from any practice amounting to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."
But the U.S. ambassador to U.N. offices in Geneva, Kevin Moley, responded that the investigation had taken little account of evidence provided by the United States, and that the five U.N. experts rejected an invitation to visit Guantanamo.
"It is particularly unfortunate that the special rapporteurs rejected the invitation and that their unedited report does not reflect the direct, personal knowledge that this visit would have provided," Moley wrote in a response that was included at the end of the report.
was leaked earlier this week before it included U.S. comment.
The U.S. is holding about 490 men at the U.S. military detention center on the southeastern tip of Cuba. The detainees are accused of having links to Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime or the al Qaeda terror group, though only a handful have been charged since the mission opened in January 2001.
The White House rejects calls to shut down the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Knoller.
Responding to questions about the UN report, spokesman Scott McClellan said the detainees are treated humanely, the International Red Cross has full access and reporters are encouraged to visit to see for themselves.
He said the detainees are dangerous terrorists and "nothing's changed in terms of our views" about operating the camp.
The five U.N. experts who authored the report had sought invitations from the United States to visit Guantanamo Bay since 2002. Three were invited last year, but refused in November after being told they could not interview detainees.
Only the International Committee of the Red Cross has been allowed to visit Guantanamo's detainees, but the organization keeps its findings confidential, reporting them solely to the detaining power. Some reports have been leaked by what the organization calls third parties.
The U.N. report's findings, which were being made public, were based on interviews with former detainees, public documents, media reports, lawyers and a questionnaire filled out by the U.S. government.
The treatment of detainees during transport and the use of violence when they resisted amounted to torture, the U.N. report said.
Although the investigators did not visit Guantanamo, they said photographic evidence — corroborated by testimony of former prisoners — showed that detainees were shackled, chained, hooded and forced to wear earphones and goggles. They said prisoners were beaten, stripped and force shaved if they resisted.
"Such treatment amounts to torture, as it inflicts severe pain or suffering on the victims for the purpose of intimidation and/or punishment," the report said.
Some of the interrogation techniques used at the detention facility itself — particularly the use of dogs, exposure to extreme temperatures, sleep deprivation for several consecutive days and prolonged isolation — caused extreme suffering, the report said. The simultaneous use of such methods was "even more likely to amount to torture," it said.
It also concluded that the particular status of Guantanamo Bay under the international lease agreement between the United States and Cuba did not limit Washington's obligations under international human rights law toward those detained there.
"The executive branch of the United States Government operates as judge, prosecutor and defense counsel of the Guantánamo Bay detainees: this constitutes serious violations of various guarantees of the right to a fair trial before an independent tribunal," the report says.
Many of the allegations have been made before, but the document represented the first inquiry launched by the 53-nation U.N. Human Rights Commission, the global body's top rights watchdog.
The group of U.N. investigators included Leila Zerrougui, an expert on arbitrary detention; Leandro Despouy, experts on judicial independence; Manfred Nowak, expert on torture; Asma Jahangir, an expert on freedom of religion; and Paul Hunt, expert on physical and mental health.
The five were appointed by the commission to the three-year project. They worked independently, with expenses covered but receiving no payment from the U.N. The five come from Argentina, Austria, New Zealand, Algeria and Pakistan.
The United States, which is a member of the commission, has criticized the body itself for including members with poor human rights records.