U.N. Alleges Guantanamo Bay Detainee Abuse

The United Nations has compiled a draft report alleging prisoner abuses at the U.S. military's detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where hundreds of suspected "enemy combatants" are being held — some for years — without being charged or allowed access to legal help. Alex Chadwick speaks with Maggie Farley, who reported on the investigation for Monday's Los Angeles Times.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. Madeleine Brand is out on assignment. I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up, two Arab newspaper editors months ago published some of those cartoons depicting Muhammad. Now they face charges of blasphemy.

First, the lead, a story in the Los Angeles Times this morning says a new U.N. report will accuse the U.S. government of mistreating, even torturing, the war on terror detainees held at Guantanamo Bay.

Hundreds of men remain in custody there, most captured in Afghanistan. Their treatment and conditions are a continuing issue for human rights advocates. U.N. investigators spent a year and a half preparing this report but did not go to Guantanamo.

Maggie Farley is a staff writer with the Los Angeles Times. Maggie, welcome to DAY TO DAY. And what specific practices is the U.N. citing in this report, a draft of this report which you have obtained?

Ms. MAGGIE FARLEY (Staff Writer, Los Angeles Times): There are three things. Use of excessive violence in transporting prisoners. Combinations of interrogation techniques that, put all together, reach the threshold of torture, according to the international definition. And they are most concerned about the third thing, which is violent force-feeding of detainees to get them to end their hunger strikes.

CHADWICK: There have been a series of hunger strikes over the last six months by these detainees. And the authorities there at Guantanamo Bay have been force-feeding prisoners.

Ms. FARLEY: That's right. They have been force-feeding them. They did it quite roughly, according to the detainees, in September, did it more humanely until December but in January came in and told the prisoners, according to one detainee, that the Commander had ordered that if they do not eat voluntarily they'll be strapped into a restraint chair, have nasal feeding tubes inserted and removed twice a day.

And the detainee also claimed that they are mixing laxatives into the formula to make them defecate on themselves and then they'd be stuck in the restraint chair and unable to move.

So what they are claiming is psychological pressure, even torture, in order to get them to end their hunger strike. The U.N. report concludes that this is torture, according to International Red Cross guidelines and the Convention Against Torture, and say that it can't be used to end hunger strikes.

CHADWICK: The U.S. calls these prisoners enemy combatants. But you write the U.N. report goes into some detail about what that means. It says any country can hold combatants through a period of war, not as punishment but simply to prevent that person from attacking again. But the U.N. appears to doubt that rational in these cases. It says these are not really enemy combatants.

Ms. FARLEY: That's right. They say that they do not have available due process in order to sort out the people who actually are enemy combatants, and some of them seem to be. And some of them seem to have been people who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time who were sold to the United States, basically, by warlords seeking the thousand dollar reward.

And some people were picked up even in other countries. So they weren't even picked up on a battlefield. So the U.N. is questioning the United States' legal justification for holding them there at Guantanamo Bay without charge or trial.

The United Nations finds that the war against terrorism does not constitute armed conflict, a defined armed conflict under international law that would provide them with exemptions or protections from these international treaties.

CHADWICK: Well, that would be an important finding. What is it that the U.N. wants to see happen now? I mean, there's a recommendation in this report to actually shut down Guantanamo Bay?

Ms. FARLEY: They think it should be shut down, and the detainees moved to someplace on U.S. territory. And they want them to have access to U.S. courts in order to challenge their detention if they feel like they're there wrongly.

CHADWICK: What is the response from the Bush Administration about this draft report?

Ms. FARLEY: The State Department said they couldn't comment on a report that hasn't been published yet. The Pentagon said that they don't comment on U.N. matters, even though it's a report that deals with Guantanamo Bay, which is under their purview.

They did comment on some things about the force feeding, saying that yes, they do feed people by force but only to save their life. And the White House spokesman said that the Bush Administration does not torture people.

CHADWICK: Maggie Farley, staff writer with the Los Angeles Times, the author of today's article about U.N. criticisms of the U.S. treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Maggie Farley, thank you.

Ms. FARLEY: Thank you.

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