U.N. Urges Closing of Guantanamo Detention Center

A U.N. report calls for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba, citing human rights violations. A team of five inspectors said the United States should either release the detainees or bring them to trial.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

But first, the United Nations released its strongly worded report today calling for the U.S. to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center in Cuba.

The team of five inspectors for the U.N. Human Rights Commission said the U.S. should either release the inmates or bring them to trial. The report also described some of the practices at Guantanamo as amounting to torture.

Joining me to talk about this is NPR's Natioanl Security Correspondent Jackie Northam. And Jackie, this is a pretty harshly worded report. What are the key findings?

JACKIE NORTHAM reporting:

Well, there's quite a number, Madeleine. One of the main things that we're looking at is the interrogation techniques, which they say if any of the techniques used simultaneously really do hit the threshold of torture. Also the conditions of detention, the solitary confinement, prolonged periods of that. The open-ended detentions without any idea how long the prisoners are going to be there, whether they're going to be charged, what their future is, anything like that. All these things wrapped together they say really start adding up to the international standards for torture. That's one of the main things in this report.

And at the end of the report it really says that, Look-it, you've either got to try these people in a competent tribunal or, you know, give them their fair day in court or really let them go. And either way they say that the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay should be shut down.

BRAND: Now, I understand the investigators didn't actually visit Guantanamo. How come?

NORTHAM: Well, the U.N. team actually has tried to get into Guantanamo for about two years now. And they were lobbying the U.S. government hard to do this. Throughout that whole time the Pentagon made it very clear that they did not want this team on the base.

Then last fall the Pentagon changed its mind and said yes indeed, you can come down here but you cannot see any detainees privately. And the U.N. Team, the Special Rappateurs, just said, no, that's not right. We have to be able to see them privately. We have to be able to have private talks with them. They said, Look-it, we go into China and the Chinese government lets us in and lets us see detainees privately there. We should expect the same from the U.S. Government. And so the U.N. team just declined the offer and decided to talk to detainees that have already been released and their lawyers and various other things to help form this report.

BRAND: So what has been the official U.S. reaction?

NORTHAM: First of all, let me say it's been very muted at this point. The report has just come out and, you know, things have to catch up to speed, and that type of thing. But the U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland, Kevin Moley, wrote that it's particularly unfortunate that the U.N. team rejected the invitation to go to Guantanamo, and basically said that its unedited report doesn't reflect, you know, the direct and personal knowledge that going to Guantanamo would've given them. So essentially the report isn't whole, it isn't well-rounded because they did not accept that invitation.

BRAND: And Jackie, in related news a new batch of photos has been released, photos detailing abuse at the Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq. Tell us about those, what's new about them and what the U.S. reaction has been to their release?

NORTHAM: Well, these photos actually are not new. And that's one of the things that the Pentagon actually came out very quickly yesterday and said. These are not new. Nobody panic. These are from two years ago when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke.

But in this new batch, the ones that are being published now, Madeleine, they're much more graphic. They're brutal photographs. For example, Madeleine there's photographs of one of the detainees who appears to be a corpse, one of the ones that I hadn't seen before. And what struck me was, it was a picture of a jail cell, the floor of a jail cell, and it was just completely covered in blood. You don't see a body in there but it's enough to really just shake you.

BRAND: And you say they're not new but yet the are being shown again. Why is that?

NORTHAM: Well, it started yesterday with Australian broadcasting and they, they put them on their very popular late-night television show. And then Salon.com has released theirs as well. I don't know why the impetus. Why now? Who knows? Apparently, they've just got hold of these photographs. You know, when I was out at the trial for Corporal Charles Graner, he was considered the ringleader for this, during his trial he made it very clear that everybody was downloading photographs from his computer, of all these photographs. And so a lot of people have these photographs. However, it doesn't matter whether these are new or old or anything else. They're coming out at a time when there's enormous anger in the Arab and Muslim world. Just about how the West is viewing basically that part of the world.

You know, you look at the cartoons that were published in European papers. You look at the pictures that came out on Sunday of British soldiers beating Iraqi youth. And now we've got this this week. So who knows what this is going to do.

BRAND: NPR National Security Correspondent Jackie Northam. Thank you.

NORTHAM: Thanks, Madeleine.

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