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United Nations torture panel urges U.S. to close prison

Published May 20, 2006

GENEVA - A key U.N. panel on Friday urged the Bush administration to close its prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, saying the indefinite detention of terror suspects there violates the world's ban on torture.

The Committee Against Torture also said the United States should ensure that no prisoner is subjected to torture.

The U.S. government insisted it complies with the treaty, including at the lockup at Guantanamo. "It is important to note that everything that is done in terms of questioning detainees is fully within the boundaries of American law," White House press secretary Tony Snow said.

President Bush has said he would like to close the prison, but is waiting for a Supreme Court ruling on whether inmates can face military tribunals.

The report was based on two sessions with a 25-member delegation of Washington officials and hundreds of pages of U.S. documents.

State Department legal adviser John Bellinger III, who led the U.S. delegation at the panel hearings, said it is "legally wrong" to say the Guantanamo prison violates the 1984 U.N. Convention Against Torture. He said the report is "factually wrong" in stating Guantanamo detainees lack access to the judicial process.

The U.N. committee also said detainees should not be handed over to any country where they could face a "real risk" of being tortured.

"It's not exactly clear what they think ought to happen to these individuals," Bellinger said.

The committee periodically reviews the performance of the United States and each of the other 140 signatories of the antitorture treaty. The criticism carries no penalties beyond international scrutiny, but human rights activists said it could influence U.S. public opinion.

[Last modified May 20, 2006, 07:45:01]

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