Shameful: This is the world's view on Guantanamo. But Tony Blair still calls it 'an anomaly'

A UN report condemns 'torture' at the detention camp. But, like other revelations in the 'war on terror', the reaction is to deplore the publicity and ignore the brutality. By Francis Elliott and Raymond Whitaker
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The Independent Online

What happens at the US-run detention camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba is torture, and the place should be shut down "without further delay". That is the conclusion of an independent panel of experts commissioned by the United Nations.

It is shared by figures of international stature such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as well as millions in the Muslim world. The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, yesterday became the latest voice to join the chorus calling for Guantanamo to become history.

But if their views on the shame of "Gitmo" could not be more stark, the attitude of those who have the power to close it down could not be more dismissive. So far, Tony Blair will only say that the detention centre holding nearly 500 men, some of them for four years, is "an anomaly", while a Downing Street source is reported as describing the outcry as a "flurry".

In the US, meanwhile, the report barely registered with a media industry still obsessed with Dick Cheney's shooting accident. It got even less attention than the disclosure, earlier last week, of new photographs of the 2003 abuse in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq which were more shocking than any seen before.

Although the evidence reinforced the belief in much of the world that both Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are symptoms of American disregard for any rules in the "war on terror", none of this was reflected in major US newspapers, which put reports on the new photographs on inside pages, and did not print any of them. The Bush administration was able to brush off both the Iraq and the Guantanamo affairs.

It was the same story in Britain, which had had its own reminder of the consequences of the "war on terror" in the shape of footage showing British soldiers beating demonstrators in the town of Amara. Three soldiers were arrested after the pictures became public, but on the issue of Guantanamo there was as little prospect of Mr Blair calling for the camp to be closed as there was of George Bush agreeing to do so.

The Downing Street aide is almost certainly right - despite the condemnation of such men as Archbishop Tutu and Dr Sentamu, the "flurry" over Guantanamo seems destined to blow itself out. But before it does, it pays to read to the end of the UN report published last Wednesday.

After 54 pages of closely argued legal discourse, footnotes detail the shocking truth of what is happening every day in Guantanamo. Recently it was discovered, for example, that 25 "special restraint chairs" were ordered by the camp for use during force-feeding to break a hunger strike by a number of inmates. A lawyer representing some them described what happens.

"They are being force-fed through the nose," the report quotes New York attorney Juliet Tarver. "The force-feeding happens in an abusive fashion as the tubes are rammed up their noses, then taken out again and rammed in again until they bleed. For a while tubes were used that were thicker than a finger, because the smaller tubes did not provide the detainees with enough food. The tubes caused the detainees to gag, and often they would vomit blood. The force-feeding happens twice daily..."

Then there is the evidence the report presents of interrogation techniques deliberately designed to offend inmate's religious sensibilities, such as female officers "lap-dancing" during interrogations. Menstrual blood is alleged to have been smeared on detainees' faces to "bring home the futility of the situation".

The Pentagon has acknowledged 10 cases of abuse or mistreatment at Guantanamo, including a female interrogator climbing on to a detainee's lap, and a detainee whose knees were bruised from being forced to kneel repeatedly.

The report also collects new evidence on the practice of "extraordinary rendition", where detainees are flown around the world to nations where they may face torture. It quotes the example of a man called al-Qadasi, who was taken from Guantanamo to Yemen in secret in April 2004. A statement from his lawyer, Tina M Foster, details what happened next. "He stayed there for 13 months in solitary confinement in an underground cell. He was routinely beaten and received only rotten food and was prevented from using the toilet. He was then temporarily transferred to Ta'iz prison, where he was also not provided food and had to rely on his family to feed him. In June 2005 he was transferred back to Sana'a prison, where he is still held without being aware of any charges."

The Bush administration has called the detainees "terrorists" and "trained liars", and stressed that the committee's members had not been to Guantanamo, without adding the reason: the panel refused to visit the camp because they were barred from speaking to detainees. Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, said the call by the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, for the closure of the facility was "just flat wrong".

As for the Abu Ghraib and Amara revelations, the reaction of officialdom on both sides of the Atlantic was to deplore the publicity given to the images as much as the brutality they showed. Senior officers from military intelligence arrived in the offices of the News of the World, which obtained the Amara footage, to demand - unsuccessfully - that the newspaper pull the story.

In the US, "we felt that it was an invasion of the [Abu Ghraib] detainees themselves to have these photographs come out," said John Bellinger of the State Department, showing somewhat selective concern for their rights. It could also "fan the flames around the world and cause potentially further violence", he added.

The third anniversary of the Iraq invasion is a month away, and Britain is sending thousands more troops to Afghanistan, where Iraq-style violence, including suicide bombing, is on the rise. But instead of putting an end to abuses which create more recruits for insurgency and terrorism, the instinct is still to keep them hidden away.

WORLD VIEW

Desmond Tutu, Ex-Archbishop of Cape Town

It's a horrendous blot on the image of what was supposed to be the only superpower... They've held people for unconscionably long periods.

Peter Hain, Northern Ireland Secretary

I would prefer that it wasn't there and I would prefer it was closed... [Asked if Tony Blair agreed] I think so. Yes.

John Sentamu, Archbishop of York

To hold someone for up to four years without charge indicates a society heading towards George Orwell's Animal Farm.

Angela Merkel, German Chancellor

An institution like Guantanamo cannot and should not exist in the longer term. Different ways and means must be found ...

Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General

There will be a need to close Guantanamo... It will be up to the [US] government to decide, and hopefully... as soon as is possible.

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