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UN Special Rapporteur Criticizes Practices at Gitmo

Dr. Martin Scheinin, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counterterrorism

Dr. Martin Scheinin, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counterterrorism

From the New York Times:

A United Nations human rights official, investigating practices at Guantánamo Bay, has concluded that evidence obtained from the interrogations there is tainted and that foreign law enforcement and intelligence officials who took part in those interrogations violated their legal obligation to reject the use of torture and arbitrary detention.

The official, Martin Scheinin, is the special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism, an unpaid position created in 2005 by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

“When evidence is obtained through cruel and inhumane treatment, we will be faced with situations where the courts decide they don’t have proper evidence,” Mr. Scheinin said in a telephone interview. “There may be suspicions of terrorism, but evidence is tainted, so courts have only one option, to drop the case. They should have thought about that from the beginning, but didn’t.”

Mr. Scheinin, who visited the detention center at Guantánamo in December 2007, published a report on Friday criticizing foreign governments that took part in the Guantánamo interrogations or condoned them while using the intelligence obtained. The document, first reported in The Washington Post on Friday, is nonbinding. It will be discussed with member states at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 10.

The United States military has allowed intelligence and law enforcement officials from more than a dozen countries to interrogate Guantánamo inmates, Mr. Scheinin said. Those countries — including France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Spain and Jordan — and many other agencies have provided questions for American interrogators to ask. Some detainees “were interrogated under torture in other countries before reaching Guantánamo,” said Mr. Scheinin, citing Western agents who questioned detainees in Pakistan.

While President Obama signed an executive order in January to close the Guantánamo Bay detention camp within a year, the Pentagon has regularly said that prisoners are treated in accordance with international law and are not tortured. But the detainees in general were kept without being charged or tried.

“Guantánamo is not primarily for investigation, but for the gathering of intelligence,” Mr. Scheinin said.

The harshest part of the report accuses Western states of aiding or being complicit in torture. “The active participation by a state through the sending of interrogators or questions, or even the mere presence of intelligence personnel at an interview with a person who is being held in places where he is tortured or subject to other inhuman treatment, can be reasonably understood as implicitly condoning torture,” Mr. Scheinin says in his report. “States must introduce safeguards preventing intelligence agencies from making use of such intelligence.”

He cited the prospect of Guantánamo’s closing as “the pendulum swinging back,” but said national governments should investigate their involvement to make better rules and strengthen oversight of intelligence agencies.

The full report can be found here. I wonder if the Obama Administration will respond. (HT: Neal Sonnett)

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.