Guantánamo Bay: 'Icon of lawlessness' enters fourth year as torture allegations mount

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“Over the past three years Guantánamo has become an icon of lawlessness.

“During the course of three years of executive detentions, Guantánamo has become a symbol of the US government’s attempt to put itself above the law. The example it sets is dangerous to us all.”

Full judicial review of detention and access to lawyers and independent human rights monitors are basic and essential safeguards against torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary detention, and “disappearance”, noted Amnesty International.

Allegations that Guantánamo detainees have been tortured and ill-treated continue to mount, with FBI agents now added to the list of those making such allegations. Yesterday, the military announced that it will carry out an internal investigation into these latest allegations.

Kate Allen said:

“Another internal review is not enough. A comprehensive, independent commission of inquiry into all aspects of the USA’s ‘war on terror’ detention and interrogation practices is long overdue. No agency should be exempt from scrutiny and no individual exempt from prosecution if the evidence supports it.”

The administration of President Bush has sanctioned detention conditions and interrogation techniques at Guantánamo Bay that violate international standards. Previous military reviews and inquiries, let alone the administration itself, have yet to denounce such treatment.

Interrogation techniques authorised for use in Guantánamo have included:

  • stress positions,
  • isolation,
  • hooding,
  • sensory deprivation and
  • the use of dogs to intimidate detainees.

Among the abuses reported by FBI agents are the cruel and prolonged use of shackling, the use of loud music and strobe lights, and the use of dogs.

Yet military personnel, including those involved in earlier investigations, have previously given assurances that no dogs have been used in this way in the naval base. A full independent commission of inquiry, as called for by Amnesty International since last May, is clearly required.

President Bush has repeatedly affirmed that the USA is committed to the rule of law and the “non-negotiable demands of human dignity.”

The USA’s own National Security Strategy and National Strategy for Combating Terrorism stress that respect for such standards must be central to the pursuit of security.

Amnesty International believes the administration’s policy in Guantánamo is now the most notorious symbol of its failure to live up to its own promises.

Kate Allen said:

“The administration’s words alone, that it will remain wedded to human rights and the rule of law even as it wages its ‘war on terror’, are no longer to be believed. It must show such commitment by its actions and change course fully in line with international law and standards.”

Six months after the US Supreme Court ruled that the federal courts have jurisdiction to hear appeals from the detainees, the administration is trying to keep any review of the lawfulness of individual detentions as far from a judicial process as possible.

The US Supreme Court has argued in federal court that administrative review by so-called Combatant Status Review Tribunals - panels of military officers that may rely on secret or coerced evidence to label as “enemy combatants” detainees who have no access to legal counsel - is sufficient due process.

More than 500 detainees of many nationalities remain detained without charge or trial in Guantánamo.

Four have been charged for trial by military commission, trials which would violate international law and standards.

Commission proceedings have been suspended since November following a ruling by a federal judge. The administration has appealed against the ruling, apparently intent on continuing with the military commissions, bodies that lack any independence from the executive.

Kate Allen added:

“The rule of law is falling victim to this disdain for the judiciary. The example being set by Guantánamo is of a world where basic human rights are negotiable, and where arbitrary detention and selective second-class justice become acceptable in the name of security.”

Amnesty International reiterates its call for the Guantánamo detainees to be brought to fair trial or released - with proposed trials by military commission terminated once and for all.

The organisation is pressing for all allegations of torture or ill-treatment at Guantánamo or elsewhere to be independently investigated. Persons found responsible for any abuse should to be brought to justice. Similarly, all secret and incommunicado detention must be ended immediately, as must secret transfers of detainees between countries.

You can read the report online

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