Friday, May 19, 2006

UN urges Gitmo closure as guards, inmates clash

The UN has become the latest organization to urge that the Guantanamo Bay detention facility be closed, while calling secret detention facilities a "clear violation" of anti-torture treaties.

A U.N. anti-torture panel issued a rebuke of Bush administration counter-terrorism policies today, calling for the closing of the Guantanamo detention facility in Cuba and a halt to the transfer of suspected terrorists to countries where they may face torture.

The committee, charged with monitoring the 1984 Convention Against Torture which the United States has ratified, also charged that the imprisonment of suspects in secret detention facilities constitutes a clear violation of the 1984 treaty.

Not too surprising. But it once again drives home how damaging Gitmo and secret detention facilities are to our cause. They continue to cost us the moral high ground we need in order to effectively combat terrorism. They continue to alienate people who should be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with us. They continue to represent a betrayal of the ideals and principles we profess to defend.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said today that "we're a little bit disappointed" with the U.N. report "because we don't think the commission really took into account all the information provided to it, in terms of changes in policy, changes in laws, changes in procedures."

McCormack said the Guantanamo detainees pose "a threat to people around the world."

Uh-huh. That's why, of the 750 or so detainees, we've released hundreds and only charged 10.

The UN position, unfortunately, is more persuasive:

The committee said it welcomed the U.S. commitment that officials from all U.S. government agencies, including contractors, "are prohibited from engaging in torture at all times and in all places." It also welcomed the U.S. pledge not to transfer terror suspects to countries where they would "more likely than not" endure torture.

But the committee expressed skepticism about the U.S. commitment to comply with such pledges, citing concern about the adequacy of a U.S. policy to obtain "diplomatic assurances" against torture from countries with poor rights records.

That, and this administration's tinkering with the definition of "torture", and Bush asserting his inherent right to authorize torture, and this administration's general penchant for not matching words to actions.

The administration reflects some careful parsing of the truth in its further response to the report:

Snow, at the news briefing today, said the United States invited the U.N. committee to visit the Guantanamo facility "on a number of occasions."

"They chose not to do so," he said.

True. Of course, the reason they chose not to visit was because of the restrictions placed upon them, notably a ban on actually talking to the detainees. So for Snow to now claim that we were open and welcoming is, frankly, BS.

Coincidentally, there was a dustup at Gitmo today, as prisoners attacked guards who entered a medium-security area to stop a prisoner from committing suicide.

Prisoners wielding improvised weapons clashed with guards trying to stop a detainee from committing suicide at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the military said Friday.

The fight occurred Thursday in a medium-security section of the camp as guards were responding to the fourth attempted suicide that day at the detention center on the U.S. Navy base, Cmdr. Robert Durand said.

Detainees used fans, light fixtures and other improvised weapons to attack the guards as they entered a communal living area to stop a prisoner trying to hang himself, Durand said.

Earlier in the day, three detainees in another part of the prison attempted suicide by swallowing prescription medicine they had been hoarding.

Sure sounds like "Club Gitmo" to me. Four suicide attempts? In one day? Maybe being imprisoned without charge or hope for four years can drive people to despair. Maybe that's why Gitmo is such a moral, legal and ethical embarassment.

Update: U.S. officials say the fight was a coordinated effort by the prisoners, and the fourth "suicidal" detainee was simply pretending in order to draw the guards in.

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