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UN body faults US, other states over Guantanamo prisoner torture

A UN watchdog hinted in a ruling made public that the United States' systematic use of Guantanamo Bay to hold suspects rounded up in its "war on terror" might in some cases amount to crimes against humanity
— Geneva (AFP)

The United States and seven other countries are responsible for torture and illegal detention of a Saudi prisoner awaiting a death penalty trial at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, a UN watchdog has ruled.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also hinted that the systematic use of Guantanamo to hold suspects rounded up in Washington's "war on terror" after the September 11, 2001 attacks, might in some cases amount to crimes against humanity.

The working group's five independent experts ruled in a case brought by Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi national of Yemeni descent suspected of being the mastermind behind the October 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole missile destroyer that left 17 sailors dead.

In the case submitted to the working group last June, lawyers maintained that after Nashiri was captured in Dubai in 2002, he spent four years shuttled between various CIA black sites -- in Afghanistan, Lithuania, Morocco, Poland, Romania and Thailand, -- being tortured and abused.

He arrived at Guantanamo Bay in 2006, where he remains detained.

He was only charged in 2008, and his military commission death penalty case still remains in pre-trial proceedings.

- 'Cruel, inhuman' -

In an opinion adopted late last year, but only discreetly made public on Friday, the UN working group determined that all eight countries were "jointly responsible for the torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of Mr. al-Nashiri".

"The submissions that Mr. al-Nashiri was tortured stand unrefuted," it said, also finding that all eight countries were responsible for his "arrest, rendition and arbitrary detention".

Nashiri's lawyer Sylvain Savolainen described the decision as "immensely powerful and important".

The working group, made up of five independent experts, whose opinions are not binding but carry reputational weight, called on the countries to "take the steps necessary to remedy the situation of Mr. Al-Nashiri without delay".

Taking into account all the circumstances of the case, they said "the appropriate remedy would be to release Mr. al-Nashiri immediately", and provide him compensation and reparations.

And they called for "a full and independent investigation of the circumstances surrounding the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of Mr. al-Nashiri, including an independent inquiry into his allegations of torture".

The experts took particular issue with the situation at Guantanamo, currently holding 31 detainees, down from a peak of nearly 800.

They noted among other things that the medical care given there "has been and remains grossly deficient".

"The Working Group is obliged to remind the government of the United States that all persons deprived of their liberty must be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person," they said.

The experts stressed that while they were addressing Nashiri's case in particular, "the conclusions reached here also apply to other detainees in similar situations a Guantanamo Bay".

And they cautioned that "under certain circumstances, widespread or systematic imprisonment or other severe deprivation of liberty, in violation of international law, may constitute crimes against humanity".

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