UN rights envoy suspects CIA of
By Stephanie Nebehay
12/13/07 -- -- GENEVA, Dec 13 (Reuters) - A United Nations
investigator said on Thursday he strongly suspected the CIA of
using torture on terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay,
suggesting many were not being prosecuted to keep the abuse from
emerging at trial.
On a visit to the U.S. detention centre in Cuba last week,
Martin Scheinin, U.N. special rapporteur on protecting human
rights while countering terrorism, attended a pre-trial hearing
of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's former driver.
Scheinin said U.S. officials had told him that of the roughly
300 detainees currently held at Guantanamo, 80 were expected to
face military trials for suspected crimes. Another 80 inmates
had been cleared for release, he said.
No decision had been made to either prosecute or release the
remaining 150, including many so-called "high value" detainees,
he said. Some have been held six years without trial.
"There is not enough evidence that could be presented, even to a
military commission chaired by a military judge. Partly there
may not be evidence and partly the risk of issues of torture
being raised is too high," Sheinin told a news briefing.
"Bringing them to court would bring to the court's attention the
method through which the evidence, including the confessions,
were obtained. So this is one further affirmation of the
conclusion that the CIA or others have been involved in methods
of interrogation that are incompatible with international law,"
U.S. President George W. Bush insists that the United States
does not engage in torture but has refused to disclose what
interrogation methods are used at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.
In all, 800 people have been held at the Guantanamo prison since
it opened in January 2002, Scheinin said. The White House
contends the naval base is outside U.S. territory so
constitutional protections do not apply.
Scheinin told the U.N. Human Rights Council on Wednesday that
his Guantanamo visit had stoked his concerns about the fairness
of trials conducted there. The U.S. delegation rejected his
remarks as partly "misleading" and rehashing old criticisms.
Hamdan's hearing was held to determine whether he is an enemy
combatant who can be tried on war crimes charges in a U.S.
military tribunal. He has acknowledged working for bin Laden but
denies being a member of al Qaeda or taking part in attacks,
including the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
Military prosecutors denied a request by his defence lawyers to
call senior al Qaeda suspects as witnesses to testify on
Hamdan's role, according to Scheinin.
"This is illustrative of the tightness of the regime in which
the high value detainees are held, which of course gives further
suspicion to the inference that they have in their possession
information concerning the interrogation techniques used upon
them, which must not come into daylight," he said.
"And therefore their prosecution even before the military
commissions is excluded for the time being," Scheinin added.
The Finnish law professor also voiced concern at the recent
revelation that the CIA had destroyed videotapes in 2005 that
recorded al Qaeda suspects undergoing waterboarding, a simulated
drowning technique, which he said amounted to torture.
"The destruction of video tapes on CIA interrogations is one
more argument that supports the contention that the CIA has been
involved and continues to be involved in the use of
interrogation techniques that violate the absolute prohibition
against torture," he said. (Editing by Laura MacInnis)
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