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Amnesty flays U.S. over Gitmo

It likens the prison to remote Soviet-era camps for political prisoners. The White House dismisses the charge as "ridiculous."

By Associated Press
Published May 26, 2005

LONDON - Amnesty International castigated the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay as a failure Wednesday, calling it "the gulag of our time" in the human rights group's harshest rebuke yet of American detention policies.

Amnesty urged Washington to shut down the prison at the U.S. Navy's base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where some 540 men are held on suspicion of links to Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime or the al-Qaida terror network. Some have been jailed for more than three years without charge.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Amnesty's complaints were "ridiculous and unsupported by the facts." He said allegations of prisoner mistreatment are investigated.

"We hold people accountable when there's abuse. We take steps to prevent it from happening again. And we do so in a very public way for the world to see that we lead by example and that we do have values that we hold very dearly and believe in," McClellan told reporters.

In its annual report, Amnesty accused governments around the world of abandoning human rights protections. It said Sudan failed to protect its people from one of the world's worst humanitarian crises and charged Haiti promoted human rights abusers.

But one of the biggest disappointments in the human rights arena was with the United States, Amnesty said, "after evidence came to light that the U.S. administration had sanctioned interrogation techniques that violated the U.N. Convention against Torture."

"Guantanamo has become the gulag of our time," Amnesty secretary-general Irene Khan said as the London-based group issued a 308-page annual report that accused the United States of shirking its responsibility to set the bar for human rights protections.

The use of the term gulag refers to the extensive system of prison camps in the former Soviet Union, many in remote regions of Siberia and specifically designed to hold political prisoners. The Soviets took over the system from the czarist government and expanded it after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Untold thousands of prisoners of the so-called gulags died from hunger, cold, harsh treatment and overwork.

In a statement, the Defense Department said, "The detention of enemy combatants is not criminal in nature, but to prevent them from continuing to fight against the United States in the war on terrorism."

It also said that it continued to evaluate whether detainees should be sent home and that review tribunals "provided an appropriate venue for detainees to meaningfully challenge their enemy combatant designation."

"This is an unprecedented level of process being provided to our enemies in a time of war," the statement said.

The Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross, which has also been critical of practices at Guantanamo, is the only independent group to have access to the detainees. Amnesty has been refused access to the prison, although it was allowed to watch pretrial hearings for 15 detainees who have been charged.

Amnesty has frequently criticized U.S. detention policies instituted after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, but its latest report takes a harsher tone.

The report also takes aim at recent abuse allegations that have surfaced in FBI documents as well as prisoner testimonies, echoing concerns from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The Red Cross said last week it had told U.S. authorities of detainee allegations that Korans had been desecrated. It also offered a rare public rebuke in late 2003, calling the prisoners' prolonged detentions "worrying."

Declassified FBI records released Wednesday showed that prisoners at Guantanamo Bay told U.S. interrogators as early as April 2002, just four months after the first detainees arrived from Afghanistan, that U.S. military guards abused them and desecrated the Koran.

Another detainee stated he had been beaten unconscious at Guantanamo Bay early in 2002, a period in which U.S. interrogators were pressing hard for information on al-Qaida.

Amnesty singled out Sudan as one of the worst violators of human rights last year for the devastation caused by conflict in its Darfur region.

At least 180,000 people have died - many from hunger and disease - and about 2-million have fled their homes to escape fighting among rebels, militias and government troops.

[Last modified May 26, 2005, 01:18:13]


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