Sun, Nov 20, 2005 - Page 7 News List

UN denied free access to Guantanamo

RESTRICTIONS UN officials condemned Washington for limiting access to the base's detainees and warned that the rule of international law could not be applied selectively

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

UN human rights investigators on Friday condemned the US for denying them free access on fact-finding visits to the Guantanamo Bay base, where hundreds of detainees are being held without trial.

Announcing their refusal to accept restrictions, the UN officials warned Washington that "the rule of international law could not be applied selectively." Their decision to produce a report without going inside the camp -- revealed at a conference in London reuniting former inmates of the base -- follows three years of discussions with the administration.

Both Amnesty International and Reprieve, which supports those facing the death penalty in the US, called on Washington to provide "meaningful" access to all prisoners at the naval base in Cuba.

As many as 200 of the 500 prisoners are believed to be on a hunger strike which is now in its 100th day. None have been allowed to starve themselves to death. Whenever they become ill, guards begin force feeding.

"There has been an alarming deterioration in the health and mental health of the inmates," said Paul Hunt, one of the five UN special rapporteurs.

"There's been sleep deprivation, other coercive methods and suicide attempts. The best way to check on these allegations is to visit, to talk privately to detainees and to talk to military staff," he said.

"International human rights do not stop at the gates of Guantanamo. The rule of law cannot be turned on and off like a tap," he said.

Another of the UN rapporteurs, Manfred Nowak, told the conference they would also look at other centers, particularly in Eastern Europe, where detainees are reported to have been sent by the US authorities to be interrogated outside the US's domestic jurisdiction.

Irene Khan, Amnesty International's secretary-general, called for full disclosure to expose the US' "globalized network of torture and ill-treatment."

"Guantanamo is just the visible tip of an iceberg of abuse, the most notorious link in a chain of detention camps, including Bagram air base in Afghanistan, prisons in Iraq and secret facilities elsewhere," she said.

Three of the UN rapporteurs were due to have visited Guantanamo Bay next month, but US officials refused to respond to their request for free access to all detainees and private interviews.

Clive Stafford-Smith, the legal director of Reprieve, who represents 40 detainees, said: "The British government should be ashamed of itself, refusing to help the 10 British residents held there."

Moazzam Begg, 37, from Birmingham, who was held in Guantanamo for three years, said that such camps were fueling hatred against Britain and the US.

"If this continues ... violence and terrorism will only proliferate. Part of the denial that [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair has taken since the July 7 bombings has to do with Guantanamo. He is not in tune with the political reality of how people feel," Begg said.

The US government said it had offered UN investigators the same terms of access provided to visiting members of the US Congress.

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