Rights panel told of 'dire' Guantanamo conditions

AP News
Posted: Mar 12, 2013 1:22 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorneys for Guantanamo Bay prisoners took their allegations about worsening conditions at the detention center to an international human rights body Tuesday, warning about the effects of prolonged indefinite detention and harsh conditions.

Three attorneys for prisoners testified before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington that the lack of any prospect for release, especially for the majority of the 166 prisoners who do not face charges, has created a climate of despair at the U.S. base in Cuba.

"The situation at Guatanamo today is dire," said Ramzi Kassem, an attorney and law professor at the City University of New York, told the commission, which promotes human rights in the Western Hemisphere.

Kassem and another of the attorneys, Omar Farah of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said that most of the prisoners have been on a hunger strike since Feb. 6 to protest conditions. The U.S. military has said only a handful of men meet the government's definition of hunger strikers.

Kristine Huskey, an attorney with Physicians for Human Rights, told the panel that indefinite detention was likely a factor for the several suicides and hundreds of attempts since the prison opened on the base in January 2002.

"Indefinite detention can cause lasting and severe psychological trauma and physical consequences that rise to the level of torture or cruel and inhuman and degrading treatment," Huskey said.

A State Department official, Michael Williams, countered that the government ensures that prisoners are treated humanely and that the men receive extensive medical treatment. He also said that President Barack Obama still believes the prison should close and his administration is working within restrictions imposed by Congress to do so.

"The United States only detains individuals when that detention is lawful and does not intend to hold any individual longer than is necessary," Williams, a senior adviser for Guantanamo policy, told the commission, made up of representatives from throughout the region.

Obama had pledged to close the prison soon after taking office but Congress opposed it, passing a law that prohibits the government from transferring Guantanamo prisoners to U.S. soil and requiring security guarantees before they can be sent elsewhere in the world. That includes dozens who have already been cleared for release and do not face charges.