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Rights groups petition for access to U.S. detainees

Friday, February 14, 2003

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba -- U.S. military officials on Thursday denied any mistreatment of terrorism suspects after two human rights groups asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to intervene on behalf of detainees.

The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights and the International Human Rights Law Group petitioned the Washington-based commission, asking it to ensure the prisoners were neither tortured during interrogations nor transferred to other countries for questioning.

The rights groups want the commission to send inspection teams to U.S. bases where detainees are being held, including Guantanamo Bay and Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

The U.S. military denies it has violated the human rights of those it has detained as part of the war against Osama bin Laden and the alQaida terrorist network.

"Every detainee is being treated humanely to the extent appropriate and in a manner consistent to the principles of the Geneva Conventions," said Army Maj. Paul Caruso, a spokesman for the detention mission on the Guantanamo base.

The petition comes a day after the U.S. military disclosed that half of the Guantanamo prisoners were being rewarded for their cooperation and that the rewards were boosting the amount and quality of information gleaned during interrogations.

There are about 650 detainees from 41 countries at the base in eastern Cuba. All are accused of links to Afghanistan's Taliban regime or al-Qaida, though none have been charged with a crime.

Some Guantanamo detainees have complained in letters to their families that they have been subjected to late-night interrogations and forced to kneel for long periods of time.

The only independent group with direct access to the Guantanamo prisoners has been the International Committee of the Red Cross. But the group no longer has a permanent presence in Guantanamo.

Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller said Tuesday that the interrogation process is a 24-hour operation but declined further details.

The petition by the human rights groups also asked that detainees not be transferred to third countries, such as Jordan, Egypt and Morocco for interrogations.

The activists said some prisoners appear to have already been sent to those countries. Military officials declined to comment on the movement of any prisoners.

"This is like a secret world," said Michael Ratner, of the Center for Constitutional Rights. "When people are in the custody of a specific state, I don't think it should be like that. That's what law is about. It's about being accountable."


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