The first UN independent investigator to visit the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay said Monday the 30 men held there are subject “to ongoing cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under international law.”
The investigator, Irish law professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, said at a news conference launching her 23-page report to the UN Human Rights Council that the 2001 attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania that killed nearly 3,000 people were “crimes against humanity.” But she said the US use of torture and rendition against alleged perpetrators and their associates in the years right after the attacks violated international human rights law.
Ní Aoláin said her visit marked the first time a U.S, administration has allowed a UN investigator to visit the facility, which opened in 2002.
She praised the Biden administration for leading by example by opening up Guantanamo and “being prepared to address the hardest human rights issues,” and urged other countries that have barred UN access to detention facilities to follow suit. And she said she was given access to everything she asked for, including holding meetings at the facility in Cuba with “high value” and “non-high value” detainees.
The United States said in a submission to the Human Rights Council on the report’s findings that the special investigator’s findings “are solely her own” and “the United States disagrees in significant respects with many factual and legal assertions” in her report.
Ní Aoláin said “significant improvements” have been made to the confinement of detainees, but expressed “serious concerns about the continued detention of 30 men, who she said face severe insecurity, suffering and anxiety. She cited examples including near constant surveillance, forced removal from their cells and unjust use of restraints.
“I observed that after two decades of custody, the suffering of those detained is profound, and it’s ongoing,” the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism said. “Every single detainee I met with lives with the unrelenting harms that follow from systematic practices of rendition, torture and arbitrary detention. ”
Ní Aoláin, concurrently a professor at the University of Minnesota and at Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, said that for many detainees the line between past and present “is exceptionally thin” and for some “it’s simply nonexistent” because “their past experiences of torture live with them in the present without any obvious end in sight, including because they have not received any adequate torture rehabilitation to date.”
She made a long series of recommendations and said the prison at Guantanamo Bay should be closed.
The US response, submitted by the American ambassador to the Human Rights Council, Michele Taylor, said Ní Aoláin was the first UN special rapporteur to visit Guantanamo and had been given “unprecedented access” with “the confidence that the conditions of confinement at Guantanamo Bay are humane and reflect the United States’ respect for and protection of human rights for all who are within our custody.”
“Detainees live communally and prepare meals together; receive specialized medical and psychiatric care; are given full access to legal counsel; and communicate regularly with family members,” the US statement said.
“We are nonetheless carefully reviewing the (special rapporteur’s) recommendations and will take any appropriate actions, as warranted,” it said.
The United States said the Biden administration has made “significant progress” toward closing Guantanamo, transferring 10 detainees from the facility, it said, adding that it is looking to find suitable locations for the remaining detainees eligible for transfer.
“For those few not yet eligible for transfer, we conduct periodic reviews to determine whether continued detention under the law of war is warranted,” it said, while proceedings for detainees subject to criminal prosecutions continue in military commissions.