BERLIN—A United Nations committee report released Friday that condemned U.S. treatment of suspected terrorists and called for the closing of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and secret terrorist detention centers seemed likely to further divide the Bush administration from close allies in Europe.
While human rights advocates praised the report, compiled by the U.N. Committee Against Torture after two days of hearings earlier this month, the findings were greeted frostily in Washington by various officials who showed no interest in complying with the committee's recommendations.
The State Department's top lawyer, John Bellinger, accused the committee of going "well outside its mandate" in discussing Guantanamo and the secret prisons that the CIA allegedly has run in Eastern Europe and Asia. White House spokesman Tony Snow noted that the committee had rejected U.S. invitations to visit Guantanamo and said that the treatment of detainees there "is fully within the boundaries of American law."
Few in Congress found merit in the findings.
"We have a right to keep dangerous people from doing us harm," Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said of Guantanamo.
"Do they expect warriors sworn to destroy the United States are entitled to a trial in U.S. court in Manhattan?" said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. "That's not required by the rules of war. The U.N. looks less and less serious when they make those kinds of statements."
Still, the report was the most authoritative examination yet of Bush administration policies and was certain to fuel the intense international criticism of how the United States deals with suspected terrorists.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, two of Bush's closest European allies, have called for the Guantanamo camp to be closed. The report is likely to put pressure on them and other Western leaders to lean harder on President Bush.
The U.N. committee, which is responsible for reviewing whether countries are adhering to the U.N. Convention Against Torture, comprises members from 10 countries, including the United States.
Human rights activists hailed its work. "This report condemns the United States for the exact sorts of practices that the United States has long condemned in other nations," said Jennifer Daskal, an advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "This should be a humbling experience for every American citizen."
The United States sent a large 29-member delegation to the committee's hearings in Geneva, a sign of how important the administration considered its report.
The report slammed the United States for a range of practices, including interrogation techniques "that have resulted in the death of some detainees" and the use of "extraordinary rendition" to seize suspected terrorists in one country and deliver them to another for interrogation and jailing.
The report's diplomatic language often obscured the harshness of its critique. In condemning rendition, which it called "enforced disappearances," the committee said it "considers the (U.S.) view that such acts do not constitute a form of torture to be regrettable."
The report urged the United States to take steps to reverse current practices, including:
_"ensure no one is detained in any secret detention facility under its de facto control. Detaining persons in such conditions constitutes, per se, a violation of the convention."
_"adopt all necessary measures to prohibit and prevent enforced disappearance ..."
_"cease to detain any person at Guantanamo Bay and close this detention facility, permit access by the detainees to judicial process or release them as soon as possible ..."
_"rescind any interrogation technique, including methods involving sexual humiliation, `water boarding,' `short shackling' and using dogs to induce fear, that constitute torture or cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment ..."
_"promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigate all allegations of acts of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by law enforcement personnel and bring the perpetrators to justice ..."
The report also called on the United States to invite a U.N. special rapporteur on torture to visit Guantanamo and other detention facilities and said it would expect the U.S. to "provide, within one year, information on its response" to the recommendations.
Gabor Rona, the international legal director for Human Rights First, which has been critical of U.S. detention policy, called the report "fair."
"I'm pleased though that the committee didn't allow the U.S. to lawyer its way out of these abuses," he said. "The report shows that the United States has been involved in a broad spectrum of abuses, that not only have damaged the individuals affected, but the entire global fabric of human rights."
Bellinger, who led the U.S. delegation at the hearings, said the committee had ignored the voluminous material the United States had supplied. He acknowledged that there had been abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, but noted that "clearly, our record has improved over the last year."
He said the committee's conclusion that holding people indefinitely without charge is a de facto violation of the Convention Against Torture "is just simply legally inaccurate."
"We think we are in compliance with our obligations," he said.
The United States wasn't the only nation scrutinized during the committee's May session. The committee also criticized South Korea, Qatar, Togo, Guatemala, Peru and Georgia. Qatar was urged to get rid of judicial penalties such as flogging and stoning. Georgia was asked to review "the high number of sudden deaths" of those in custody and the high number of deaths from tuberculosis.
But the 11-page report on the United States was three pages longer than the next longest, that on Togo, which was accused of permitting torture after the 2005 elections.
(William Douglas, James Kuhnhenn and Warren P. Strobel contributed to this report from Washington.)
The full U.N. report is available at
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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