US should apologize to Guantánamo Bay detainees for ‘inhumane’ treatment, says UN expert after historic visit

The US should apologize for its treatment of Guantánamo Bay detainees, who suffered “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment”, a UN expert has said.

Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, who made the first official visit by a UN investigator to the US detention center in Cuba, said Monday that she had identified significant improvements in detention conditions at Guantánamo Bay since it was set up to house suspects after September 19. December 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Despite this, she found that the facility – which now houses 30 inmates, down from almost 800 at its peak – continued to result in “near-constant surveillance, forced cell extractions, overuse of restraints and other arbitrary measures inconsistent with human rights. operational procedures,” she said in her report to the UN Human Rights Office.

“All of these practices and omissions have cumulative and aggravating effects on the dignity and fundamental rights of detainees, and amount to continued cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” said Ní Aoláin, adding, “The closure of the establishment remains a priority.

While Washington has long asserted that it can hold detainees indefinitely without charge under international laws of war, the detention center has come under heavy criticism since it was established by the Bush White House in 2002.

Images of detainees blindfolded and dressed in orange jumpsuits, kneeling on the ground with their hands tied, have become emblematic of the ‘war on terror’, with some Islamist extremists, like the Islamic State terror group, dressing hostages in outfits similar before decapitating them.

A detainee is led by military police for questioning by military officials at Camp X-Ray at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, February 6, 2002.
A detainee is brought in for questioning at the US naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, February 6, 2002.Lynne Sladky/AP File

Ní Aoláin, professor of Irish law, is the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. These rapporteurs are responsible for examining, advising and publicly reporting on human rights issues and situations.

Speaking at the UN on Monday, Ní Aoláin said the United States should apologize for its treatment of detainees, according to Reuters. She concluded that the US government must ensure accountability for all violations of international law.

An official U.S. response to Ní Aoláin’s findings, published by the U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Geneva, said the United States disagreed “with many factual and legal assertions that the RS has made”, referring to Ní Aoláin, the special rapporteur. “We are committed to providing safe and humane treatment to Guantánamo detainees, in full compliance with international law and US domestic law.”

“Detainees cook meals together and live communally, receive specialized medical and psychiatric care, have access to counsel, and communicate regularly with family members,” the US said.

The United States stressed that Ní Aoláin’s conclusions “are solely his own and do not reflect the official views of the United Nations”.

“We are nevertheless carefully reviewing the RS’s recommendations and will take all appropriate action, if necessary,” the US statement added.

Noting that 10 people have been transferred from Guantánamo since President Joe Biden took office, the United States added that it had “made significant progress toward responsible reduction of the detained population and closure of the facility. of Guantánamo”.

The administration is “actively working to find suitable locations for the remaining inmates eligible for transfer,” he said.

Biden has said he wants to close the detention center.

The United States established the Guantánamo military base in 1903. President George W. Bush opened the detention center in 2002, and it held nearly 800 detainees at its peak.

The most high-profile prisoner held there is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.

Barack Obama had pledged to close the prison as president, and two days after his inauguration he signed an executive order to close it by the end of the year. But as his administration drastically reduced the population, congressional resistance hampered the attempt to close the facility.

After Donald Trump became president, he signed an executive order to keep the site open.

Biden launched a low-key attempt to shut down the site soon after taking office, as a number of inmates were transferred to other countries in the years that followed. In April, the transfer of an Algerian detainee to Algeria reduced the population of the detention center to 30 people.

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