The last 30 detainees at Guantánamo Bay, including men accused of planning the 9/11 attacks, are being held by the United States under circumstances that amount to « cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under international law, » an investigator said. of the United Nations for human rights on Monday.
Fionnuala Ni Aolaina Minnesota law professor as special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, included the conclusion in a report from a four-day visit to the prison in February, which included meetings with an unknown number of inmates and interviews with lawyers and former inmates. She presented the report one month before her mandate as rapporteur expired.
He specifically cited the cumulative effects of inadequate healthcare, isolation, restrictions and the use of force to remove prisoners from their cells as contributing to his findings. He said prison conditions « may even reach the legal threshold for torture. »
Ms Aolain was the first UN investigator to be granted access to the detention center in its two-decade history. She said in an interview that she met with a cross-section of the 34 prisoners who were there in February, including former CIA detainees who are facing criminal charges and others who have been approved for transfer to other countries. Today there are 30 left.
As part of her mandate, Ms Aolain has also met with the families of victims of terrorism.
The report called the September 11, 2001 attacks « a crime against humanity ». But Ms Aolain explicitly called the United States and its use of torture on the men now accused at Guantánamo Bay « the single most significant obstacle to fulfilling victims’ rights to justice and accountability. »
Torture, he said, « was a betrayal of the rights of the victims » of the 9/11 attacks.
In response, the Biden administration released a one-page defense of the detention operation saying current inmates at the Pentagon prison “live communally and prepare meals together; receive specialist medical and psychiatric care; have full access to legal advice; and communicate regularly with family members.
The report highlighted the case of Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a former aide to Osama bin Laden who is serving a life sentence « in solitary confinement, raising serious solitary confinement concerns in violation of international law ». The prison plans to place him around other inmates four hours a day, the report said, but he may not adhere to that plan.
Ms Aolain offered the latest in mounting international criticism of the healthcare provided to detainees, particularly the inadequacy of the base’s facilities to treat « an elderly and vulnerable population » and the absence of « comprehensive holistic rehabilitation of torture « .
He urged the United States to establish an independent civilian health program for prisoners who have been tortured by the United States.
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other prisoners accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks are making a similar demand in negotiations that were started more than a year ago by prosecutors, who proposed that the men plead guilty in exchange for life in prison, rather than face a trial with the death penalty.
Ms Aolain said the detainees have lifelong disabilities, traumatic brain injuries, chronic pain – including joint, gastrointestinal and urinary problems – as well as untreated post-traumatic stress disorder. She has blamed the torture and rendition programs for some of the medical problems. You attributed some of them to long-term detention, hunger strikes and force-feeding at Guantánamo Bay.
Ms Aolain’s visit was the first known visit to the prison infrastructure by an independent observer since detention center staff cut off liaison with the media in April 2019.
Until this year, successive US administrations had allowed only Red Cross and defense attorneys access to the facility and to speak with prisoners. The Biden administration offered the speaker a visit as part of an initiative to engage more actively with UN human rights investigative bodies.
The report criticized the United States for failing to provide trauma care and guarantee the rights of more than 700 former Guantánamo prisoners. Most have been repatriated although some, mostly Yemenis, have been sent to other countries for resettlement.
He described the released prisoners as being stigmatized by their detention, in some cases deprived of basic human rights and requiring reparations. He also urged reparations for current inmates and victims of terrorism, especially the children of 9/11 victims, saying they should be allowed to pursue financial, educational and trauma support as remedies a surviving parent may have given up.
The White House did not issue a response to Ms. Aolain’s remarks on Monday. But President Biden issued a statement noting that it was the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture and declaring « the United States’ opposition to all forms of inhumane treatment and our commitment to eliminate torture and assist torture survivors as they recover and in their quest for justice « .
Mr Biden has criticized torture in Russia, Syria and North Korea, adding: ‘I call on all nations of the world to join me in advocating for rehabilitation and justice for torture survivors and to take action to permanently eliminate torture. and inhumane treatment ».
Ms. Aolain, however, explicitly argued that the United States had an obligation to address its legacy of torture. « There is no statute limiting torture, » she said. « Those who perpetrated it, engaged in it, hid it… remain responsible for their entire lives. »