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U.S. rejects U.N. report on detainees

WASHINGTON—The United States should close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, immediately and end violent treatment that amounts to torture, U.N. human-rights investigators said in a report released Thursday. The White House rejected the report.

The report recommended that the U.S. government either put the detainees on trial before an international tribunal or release them. Those facing trial should be transferred to detention facilities on U.S. soil, it said.

The report also found that excessive violence against detainees, including kicking and punching and force-feeding those on hunger strikes "must be assessed as amounting to torture" as defined in the international Convention Against Torture.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan dismissed the 54-page report as a "rehash of allegations" made by lawyers representing some detainees.

"We know that these are dangerous terrorists that are being kept at Guantanamo Bay," McClellan said. "They are people that are determined to harm innocent civilians or harm innocent Americans." He added that U.S. servicemen and women must deal with prisoners who are "trained to provide false information."

An interim report earlier this month by lawyers representing two Guantanamo detainees found that 55 percent of the detainees haven't been found to have committed any hostile acts against the United States or its allies. Only 8 percent were characterized as al-Qaida fighters and 86 percent were handed over by Afghan forces or Pakistanis at a time when the United States was offering financial bounties for suspected enemies.

The U.N. report was based on interviews with former Guantanamo detainees, lawyers for some current detainees, information from the U.S. government and other data, including reports by nongovernmental organizations. Among the five investigators was Manfred Nowak, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture.

McClellan criticized the investigators for not visiting Guantanamo. The investigators had declined to do so after the government refused to let them interview detainees privately. The United Nations said in a news release that private interviews are accepted procedure in all countries that its human-rights investigators visit.

McClellan said it was a "discredit to the U.N. ... for rushing to report something when they haven't even looked into the facts."

The report said that the U.S. government should refrain from any practice "amounting to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of detainees and that "all special interrogation techniques" approved by the Department of Defense should be revoked, including exposing detainees to extreme temperatures.

It said some now-discontinued techniques used at Guantanamo, such as stripping prisoners naked and using dogs, could have amounted to torture.

Other recommendations in the report:

_The U.S. government should ensure that all torture allegations are investigated by independent authorities and "that all persons found to have perpetrated, ordered or condoned such practices, up to the highest level of military and political command, are brought to justice."

_Detainees who have been tortured or abused should be compensated.

_No prisoners should be transferred to countries where they believe they would be tortured.

_The U.S. government should provide guards adequately trained in human rights issues.

The military prison at Guantanamo opened in January 2002 to hold suspected terrorists. The Bush administration contends that the detainees are "enemy combatants" who aren't subject to the usual prisoners' rights under the Geneva Conventions and that they can be held as long as they are a threat to the United States.

A military board is supposed to review the status of each detainee and determine whether he should be released, turned over to another country or tried by military commission.

According to the Pentagon, there are 490 men in the prison.

The military has cleared and released 187 detainees, and 80 have been transferred to other countries. President Bush has designated 17 of the detainees as eligible for trials by military commissions.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, speaking to reporters in New York, said he didn't "necessarily agree with everything in the report," but said that it was common legal practice to bring prisoners to trial or release them rather than detain them permanently.

"I think sooner or later there will be a need to close Guantanamo. I think it will be up to the government to decide, and hopefully to do it as soon as is possible," he said.

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The U.N. report is online at www.ohchr.org/english/bodies/chr/docs/62chr/E.CN.4.2006.120(underscore).pdf

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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