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UN report alleges violations of prisoner rights

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Guantanamo UN Report Based on `Hearsay,' U.S. Government Says
Feb. 14 (Bloomberg) -- A United Nations draft report alleging violations of the rights of prisoners held by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay is based on ``hearsay and assertion,'' the U.S. State Department said.

``Nobody who wrote this report actually went to Guantanamo,'' State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said at a briefing yesterday in Washington, according to a transcript. ``They are taking assertions by individuals who have left Guantanamo, as well as their lawyers, as fact.''

The report, which hasn't been released, was put together by five UN envoys who questioned former Guantanamo prisoners, their lawyers, families and U.S. officials. It says the U.S. is violating the physical and mental health rights of prisoners and in some instances the treatment amounts to torture, the Los Angeles Times reported yesterday, citing a draft of the report.

The U.S. Defense Department holds about 490 people at Guantanamo Bay, including many captured after the U.S. ousted the Taliban regime from Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Most are being held without charges.

The UN envoys said the U.S. should shut down the military prison and bring the suspected terrorists to trial on U.S. territory, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The U.S. will reserve final comment ``until we see what emerges from the UN rapporteurs,'' McCormack said. ``They did not take the opportunity offered to them to visit Guantanamo Bay and see firsthand what the operations are like.'' As a result, ``we're going to see a report that's based on hearsay and assertion.''

Access to Prisoners

The UN envoys weren't granted access to prisoners, McCormack said in answer to a question. They could have instead taken advantage of the International Committee of the Red Cross that has the ability to access prisoners, he said.

The offer to the envoys to visit Guantanamo was made in good faith ``based on international obligation as well as our policies,'' McCormack said.

One of the allegations in the draft report concerns the feeding of people who have gone on hunger strike, McCormack said.

``The doctors down there comply with accepted international practice when it comes to these questions,'' he said. ``This is done by medical professionals in a humane way.''

The Defense Department has stepped up efforts to force feed detainees who were on a hunger strike at Guantanamo after determining that some of them wanted to commit suicide to protest their indefinite confinement, the New York Times reported Feb. 9, citing U.S. military officials.

Navy Lieutenant Commander J.D. Gordon, a spokesman for the U.S. Defense Department, said yesterday the department doesn't comment on UN matters.

Annan Comments

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said yesterday in Washington he hasn't seen the draft report, which is the result of an 18- month investigation ordered by the UN Commission on Human Rights.

``These are independent experts who often look at a situation and issue a report,'' Annan said, according to a U.S. government transcript. ``I will need to study carefully to be able to make a judgment on it.''

The Defense Department said last week it has transferred or released 267 prisoners from Guantanamo since they were detained. They include 187 set free and 80 transferred to governments, including those of Afghanistan, Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Denmark, France, U.K., Kuwait, Morocco, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden and Uganda.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington, D.C., Circuit ruled last July that Congress authorized the president to set up military tribunals when it approved the use of force to fight terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks. The Supreme Court in November said it would review whether the tribunals deny rights that are given to other U.S. criminal defendants.

Last Updated: February 13, 2006 19:13 EST

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