The British, French and German ambassadors to Washington called for the US to close its Guantanamo "war on terror" prison camp, and the French envoy called it "an embarrassment."
A Guantanamo detainee wears white, indicating he has been compliant
Three key European ambassadors stepped up pressure on US authorities over the weekend, after a report by UN human rights experts called for the camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to be shut as soon as possible.
"The sooner it is closed the better it will be for the image of the United States, not only as a military and political (power) but also as a moral leader in the world," German Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger said.
A maximum security cell at Camp Delta in Guantanamo
France's envoy, Jean-David Levitte, told CNN television that "Guantanamo is an embarrassment, and so it has to be solved one way or the other."
And British Ambassador Sir David Manning reaffirmed Prime Minister Tony Blair's comment last week that the US camp for detainees seized in the global offensive launched after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks was "an anomaly."
Commission recommends closing
"We understand the context. You've lost a lot of people," said Manning. "It's difficult to find the right line to draw between your duties as a government for security and safeguarding liberty, but it is clearly an anomaly, and it needs to be dealt with."
The camp at Guantanamo has some 500 inmates, most of whom have never been charged. Controversial since its establishment, it re-emerged into the international spotlight after a group of human rights experts commissioned to write a report on the camp said some practices at Guantanamo were tantamount to torture.
UN Secretary General Annan: camp closure sooner or later
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan distanced the United Nations from the report, which was commissioned by the UN but carried out by independent human-rights experts. At the same time, he clearly supported its message, saying that "sooner or later," Guantanamo would have to be closed.
He added that he hoped a decision would be made quickly.
"This is not a report from the UN or the UN secretary general," Annan clarified in a statement in New York.
Agreement on 'basic points'
He said he didn't agree with everything in the report. "But the basic point -- that one cannot detain individuals in perpetuity, and that charges have to be brought against them and be given a chance to explain themselves, prosecuted, charged or released -- I think is something that is common under any legal system."
According to Annan, the US is walking a fine line with its Guantanamo dealings. "The basic premise is, we have to be particularly careful to keep a balance between effective anti-terror measures, and individual freedom and human rights," he warned.
This balance seems to have been lost in Guantanamo, and the Geneva conventions are not being respected. Therefore, he said, "I think sooner or later, Guantanamo will need to be closed. The US government has to decide this. And I hope they do it as quickly as possible."
For its part, the United States has rejected calls for the camp to be shut, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Annan was "flat wrong" to call for its closure.