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Americas

Watchdog denied access to Guantanamo detainees in rights probe

The United States has refused to allow human rights investigators access to inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, according to the OSCE. The organization has identified numerous violations taking place there.

Unveiling

a 280-page report

on the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) noted they were not allowed interview any detainee among the more than 100 still held at the site.

Asked by DW why US authorities had refused them access, Omer Fisher, deputy head of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), said: "We didn't really get a detailed explanation as to the reasons."

Barred from speaking to inmates, the officials instead did their research by meeting detainees' lawyers, US administration officials, non-governmental organizations, and a handful of former detainees.

Lucile Sengler, advisor on anti-terrorism issues at ODIHR, said they were also unable to obtain information from writing to detainees. A questionnaire they sent asking about conditions of transfer and detention reaped just one response, a letter that was "fully redacted," meaning the US authorities blacked out its content, leaving only date and title. The letter, which is annexed to the report, came from detainee Walid Bin Attash and was dated September 5, 2014.

The US is one of 57 states that participate in the OSCE, a regional security organization focused on human rights, press freedom, fair elections and conflict prevention, among other things, in North America, Europe and Asia.

President Barack Obama pledged to close Guantanamo after taking office in January 2009. Seven years into his eight-year presidency and 14 years after the prison was built in response to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, it remains in use. US authorities have limited direct access to detainees to their legal counsels and representatives of the Red Cross.

The ODIHR report pinpoints the human rights violations that stem from Guantanamo:

  • 102 of the remaining 112 inmates have never been charged with a crime and some have been held for nearly 13 years. This problem of indefinite detention without trial is likely to persist even if Guantanamo is shut, it warns.
  • 53 existing inmates have been cleared for release for more than five years, US authorities having themselves determined they do not pose a security threat.
  • The military tribunals being used to prosecute some detainees are seriously flawed: there are allegations of a lack of lawyer-client confidentiality and a possibility that evidence obtained through torture will be admitted.
  • The force-feeding of detainees who have held hunger strikes to protest their detention combined with prolonged periods of solitary confinement may constitute torture.
  • There is no provision allowing detainees who have been tortured or unjustly detained to obtain legal redress.

'National security priority'

The report comes as Obama puts the finishing touches to a new plan to close the site.

Commenting on rumors that this plan will take the form of an executive order in order to get around Congress' perennial objections to closure, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday: "I'm not aware of any ongoing effort to devise a strategy using only the president's executive authority to accomplish this goal, but I certainly wouldn't […] take that option off the table." He stressed that "closing the prison at Guantanamo is a national security priority."

Since 2010, Congress has used the power of the purse to prevent detainees being moved to US soil. In recent months, Obama administration officials have tried to persuade lawmakers to end their opposition, but they have yet to make a breakthrough in their efforts. The annual military spending bill passed by the House and Senate earlier this week reconfirms the ban on US-bound transfers. Facilities at Leavenworth in Kansas, Charleston in South Carolina and Florence in Colorado have been touted as potential sites for housing them.

Obama has managed to whittle down the Guantanamo population by about half, with 125 having been transferred either back home or to a third country during his presidency. Some European allies have received ex-detainees, albeit not nearly as many as Washington had hoped.

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