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Friday, 14 February, 2003, 08:55 GMT
US denies 'prison torture' charges
Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay
The US insists inmates are treated "humanely"
US officials have denied allegations of torture after human rights groups called for "urgent intervention" to protect terror suspects detained at an American military base.

Officials who condone [torture] can and should be prosecuted in the United States and can be brought to justice wherever in the world they are found

Human rights groups
Three human rights groups asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organisation of American States (OAS) "to prevent the unlawful treatment of men" being held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

They cited physical abuse and sleep deprivation, and also pointed to a number of deaths and attempted suicides in custody.

The US State Department called the accusations of torture "ridiculous", while the Pentagon said the reports were being investigated.

Attempted suicides

The petition was launched by the New-York based Center for Constitutional Rights, the International Human Rights Law Group and the International Federation of Human Rights.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
Rumsfeld has argued that information from detainee interrogation was "saving lives"

The human groups cited examples of mistreatment of prisoners held at Guantanamo and other US overseas detention facilities.

They also said urgent measures were needed to prevent the transfer of prisoners to foreign governments that have been known to practise torture.

"Torture is illegal in every country of the world," the groups said in a joint statement.

"Officials who condone it can and should be prosecuted in the United States and can be brought to justice wherever in the world they are found."

But a US spokesman for the task force in charge of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay denied the accusations.

The spokesman, Major Paul Caruso, was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying that "all individual detainees here are treated humanely".

However, he acknowledged that there had been 15 attempted suicides among the inmates over the last year.

'Stress and duress'

Specific allegations of prisoner torture were first published in the Washington Post in December last year.

According to the paper, interrogators from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had been subjecting Taleban and al-Qaeda suspects to "stress and duress" techniques of dubious legality.

Suspects at US facilities in Afghanistan and other foreign countries were sometimes held in uncomfortable positions for hours and deprived of sleep, the paper alleged.

It also said some of those who refused to co-operate were handed over to foreign governments that have been known to practise torture and other forms of mistreatment.

About 650 men have been at Guantanamo Bay since the detention base was established in January 2002.

They were detained during the US-led war in Afghanistan and are accused of links to al-Qaeda terror network and the former Taleban government.

Washington has refused to give them prisoner-of-war status which would offer rights under the Geneva Convention.


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