US treatment of Guantanamo inmates 'cruel, inhuman and degrading', says UN expert

Special rapporteur completes first official visit by a UN expert to the detention facility in Cuba

People protest against the US prison in Guantanamo Bay outside of the US Capitol in Washington. Reuters
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The treatment of Guantanamo Bay detainees amounts to “continuing cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment that runs contrary to international law, a UN expert said on Monday after concluding a visit to the infamous US military jail.

“I observed that after two decades of custody, the suffering of those detained is profound and it's continuing,” Fionnuala Ni Aolain, UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, told reporters in New York.

Ms Ni Aolain, whose official visit was the first by a UN expert to the detention facility on a US base in Cuba, called for Washington to ensure accountability for all breaches of international law with regard to victims of its counter-terrorism practices.

She underscored the importance of apology, noting that the time is “now to undo the legacies of exceptionalism, discrimination and securitisation perpetuated by Guantanamo’s continuing existence”.

“Every single detainee I met with lives with the unrelenting harms that follow from systematic practices of rendition, torture and arbitrary detention,” she said.

“As I listened in those conversations, I understood that for many of these detainees, the dividing line between the past and the present is exceptionally thin.”

The independent expert praised President Joe Biden's administration for providing her with full access to detainees.

“The US government has led by example by being prepared to address the hardest human rights issues,” she said.

“I affirm the openness of the technical visit, the spirit of positive constructive dialogue that sustained it, and the singular importance of access to all detention sites affirmed by it.”

The special rapporteur also met repatriated and resettled detainees and their families, as well as government personnel in other countries.

Following Ms Ni Aolain's report, the head of Amnesty International, Agnes Callamard, stressed the pressing need to shut down Guantanamo and offer compensation to former and current detainees.

“Very few of these men have ever been charged with a crime, and absolutely none have faced a fair trial,” she said in a statement.

“It is well past time to demand the closure of the prison, accountability from US officials, and reparations for the torture and other ill-treatment that the detainees have suffered at the hands of the US government.”

The detention facility at Guantanamo Bay was opened in 2002 during the administration of former president George W Bush during the expansive War on Terror that began following the September 11 terror attacks.

About 780 Muslim men and boys held in the prison at various times over the past 20 years have never stood trial or were even charged with a crime.

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Updated: June 27, 2023, 7:02 AM