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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Pour les experts de l’Onu, les États-Unis doivent « fermer le camp de Guantanamo »

by Interview conducted by Ramine Abadie

United Nations experts: US must "close down Guantanamo camp"

Translated by Ann Drummond

Translated Friday 3 March 2006, by Ann Drummond

Interview. Austrian UN Special Rapporteur, Manfred Nowak, is unequivocal: Prisoners detained by the US should be put on trial or brought before the courts. A special report.

HUMA: In light of the conditions imposed by the US Government, including the refusal to allow you to speak in private with the detainees, you and your colleagues have refused to go to Guantanamo. So why have you issued this report now?

Manfred Nowak: Since the Guantanamo camp was set up in 2002, my colleagues and I have received a number of allegations about the ill-treatment of prisoners. For a long time now, we have been asking for the right to visit the premises. We sent an official request to the US Government, but in the end we had to decline the visit because of the conditions imposed by the US Administration. We prepared this report on the basis of interviews with prisoners who have been released, families of detainees and reliable sources. It is due to be submitted to the UN Commission on Human Rights in March.

HUMA: In the report, you describe a list of forms of treatment which you classify as "degrading". To put it plainly, in your view does the US Government practice torture in Guantanamo?

Manfred Nowak: Our report is one which is primarily concerned with the legality. We carefully studied the arguments put forward by the United States for detaining prisoners without trial for lengthy periods of time. Well, we are now convinced that the policies and practices of the United States in Guantanamo are indefensible, and do not conform to the legal statutes or international conventions. In the opinion of my colleagues and myself, the treatment of prisoners in this camp, starting with the absence of any trial and the failure to specify the duration of imprisonment, constitutes a blatant case of arbitrary detention. As far as the methods used in Guantanamo are concerned, from the transfer to the camp itself to the coercive interrogation techniques, sleep deprivation and solitary confinement (explicitly authorized by US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and the force-feeding of detainees on hunger strike - these amount to degrading treatment and, in certain cases, to forms of torture.

HUMA: The US Administration believes that the practices at the Guantanamo camp are nothing compared to the real or potential crimes of terrorists. How would you respond to this?

Manfred Nowak: It is not a question of weighing the methods and actions of one against the other! The gravity of the crime of which someone is accused is irrelevant - nothing can justify torture or ill-treatment. This position has been clearly stated in the principles and conventions of the United Nations and those on human rights. And this is precisely the criticism we level against the US Administration and its Department of Defense, that they believe they are not bound by international standards and obligations, and that they have authorized, according to our findings, what amounts to arbitrary detention and degrading treatment of prisoners. This is what must be deplored and condemned.

Of course, we understand that the fight against terrorism is an important matter which should be taken seriously. But this certainly does not mean that the US Government can abrogate respect for the law and for international agreements - and respect for its own obligations. Quite the opposite. It must wage its war within the bounds of legality. Most of the detainees in Guantanamo have not even appeared before a military tribunal! This shows very clearly that there is no substantial proof of their guilt. We are asking that they be brought immediately before a US court of competent jurisdiction - not a military tribunal - or be transferred to be tried in their countries of origin. Otherwise they should be set free. One cannot, and should not, indefinitely detain individuals without charge, and submit them to the sort of degrading treatment that is taking place in Guantanamo.

HUMA: Based on what you know and the facts which you have examined, do you believe that the US is now an outlaw state?

Manfred Nowak: I hope not. Nevertheless, what we know of Guantanamo and other US detention camps elsewhere, as well as the kind of criminal behaviour in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, all this shows that the acts the United States is accused of are serious and justified. We are asking for an independent inquiry to be set up immediately. It is not enough to sentence lower-ranking soldiers for the abuses in the prisons in Iraq as they have done until now. Our hope is that the United States will be able to get back on track and return to our sharedvalues of freedom, democracy and law.

Interview conducted by Ramine Abadie.

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