Hunger strikers tortured at Guantanamo. UN report calls for closing U.S. prison

WASHINGTON — Grisly details of torture of detainees at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are revealed in a new UN report, not yet released. The torture includes jamming feeding tubes up the nostrils of hunger strikers twice daily and force-feeding them Ex-Lax so they lose control of their bowels.

The report calls for the closing of the prison and release or due process trials of the 517 detainees.

Prepared by five special human rights envoys, the report charges that the force-feeding causes excruciating pain and constitutes torture. The authors also found that brutality in the transport of the prisoners and several methods of interrogation also meet the definition of torture.

“We very, very carefully considered all of the arguments posed by the U.S. government,” said Manfred Nowak, the UN special rapporteur on torture. “We concluded that the situation in several areas violates international law and conventions on human rights and torture.”

The UN team declined the Bush administration’s offer of a tour of Guantanamo because the Pentagon refused to allow them to question any of the detainees about their treatment. Thus the report focuses on the testimony of the few detainees who have been released.

One detainee, a Kuwaiti named Fawszi al-Odah, said he stopped his five-month hunger strike this month when he heard the screams of a fellow prisoner as guards rammed a feeding tube up his nose. Al-Odah reported that in December guards started taking clothes, shoes and blankets away from 85 hunger strikers. He charged that guards mixed Ex-Lax with the liquid formula force-fed to 40 other strikers, causing them to defecate on themselves.

The report buttresses recent charges by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Center for Constitutional Rights that torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading practices are being inflicted on the Guantanamo detainees in flagrant violation of U.S. and international law.

“We have not yet read the report but from media accounts it confirms what we have been saying about Guantanamo for years,” said Sharon Singh, Amnesty International’s media spokesperson. “We have been calling on the Bush administration to permit independent doctors in to assess the medical condition of the detainees. They have been held for years without criminal charges. Either charge them with a crime or release them. More and more groups are speaking out. Guantanamo and these other secret sites should be closed.”

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said the UN report would “revive concern about the government’s mistreatment of detainees” and “get people to take another look at the legal basis. There are lots of lingering questions about how you justify holding these people.”

The Bush administration has stiff-armed all appeals that it end these practices. Last year it rammed through Congress a $36 million appropriation to build a permanent prison at Guantanamo, brushing aside Sen. Robert Byrd’s (D-W.Va.) amendment to strip the funds from a spending bill. The administration has even asserted the right to execute prisoners at Guantanamo.

Amnesty International released its own report this month, titled “Guantanamo: Lives Torn Apart,” based on interviews with detainees and their families. It points out that President Bush asserts his prerogative to detain so-called “enemy combatants” indefinitely without criminal charges or due process rights.

“But the torment does not in Guantanamo,” the report states. “For some of the ‘war on terror’ detainees, transfer from Guantanamo has meant a move from one place of unlawful detention to another. For others, it has meant continual harassment, arbitrary arrest and ill-treatment.”

Amnesty’s report urges readers to “take action now! Write to U.S. President George W. Bush demanding that he close down the detention facilities at Guantanamo.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights released a report Feb. 6 by Seton Hall law professor Mark Denbeaux and attorney Joshua Denbeaux showing, based on Pentagon records, that the majority of the Guantanamo detainees had committed no hostile act against the U.S. Only 5 percent were captured by U.S. forces, the report says. “The rest were picked up in Pakistan and handed over to the Pentagon by warlords and others for large bounties.”

CCR spokesperson Gita Gutierrez commented, “Now for the first time, the military’s lies and misrepresentations about the prisoners in Guantanamo have been debunked through the military’s own documents. Yet these men remain in prison while at every turn the Executive seeks to avoid judicial scrutiny of its unlawful conduct.”

Underlining Pentagon disdain for the rule of law, The New York Times reported Feb. 13 that years after two Afghan detainees were murdered, prosecution of the killers has virtually collapsed. The two men were found dead within days of each other, hanging by their shackled wrists in isolation cells at the U.S. Bagram prison north of Kabul. They had been beaten to death. Of 27 soldiers and officers who faced criminal charges, only 15 have been prosecuted. Five pleaded guilty to assault charges and the stiffest penalty was five months in a military prison. Only one soldier has been convicted and he was not imprisoned at all.