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Secret detention remains serious problem - U.N. report

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United States is among dozens of countries that have kidnapped and held terrorism suspects in secret detention over the past nine years, violating their basic human rights, a United Nations report charged on Tuesday.

Algeria, China, Egypt, India, Iran, Russia, Sudan and Zimbabwe are also detaining security suspects or opposition members in unknown places, it said.

“On a global scale, secret detention in connection with counter-terrorist policies remains a serious problem,” four independent U.N. rights investigators said in a year-long study based on flight data and interviews with 30 former detainees.

Victims and their families deserve compensation and those responsible should be prosecuted, they said in a 226-page report to be presented in March to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

“Secret detention as such may constitute torture or ill-treatment for the direct victims as well as their families,” the report said.

But the very purpose of secret detention was to facilitate and cover up torture and inhuman and degrading treatment to obtain information or silence people, it said.

Secret detention, used by the Nazis, the Soviet gulag system and Latin American dictatorships in the 1970s and ‘80s, is banned under international law embodied in the Geneva Conventions, and cannot be justified under any circumstances, including during states of emergency and armed conflict, it said.

“In spite of these unequivocal norms, secret detention continues to be used in the name of countering terrorism around the world,” the report said.


After the deadly September 11 attacks, then President George W. Bush declared a global “war on terror” and set up the Guantanamo Bay detention centre and other “black sites” where al-Qaeda detainees were beyond the reach of domestic courts, it said.

“The secret detention policy took many forms. The CIA established its own secret detention facilities to interrogate so-called ‘High Value Detainees’,” it said.

“It asked partners with poor human rights records to secretly detain and interrogate persons on its behalf.”

After the start of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts, detainees were held incommunicado and deprived of basic rights to trial, a lawyer and contacts with their families, it said.

Some former detainees told the investigators that they were subjected to torture including being kept naked or subject to loud noises or sleep deprivation during their secret detention.

Many U.S.-captured suspects were held in “proxy detention sites” after being transferred to other countries by the Central Intelligence Agency for interrogation, it said, naming Ethiopia, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan and Syria.

Under the unlawful practice known as extraordinary rendition, detainees also appear to have been sent to allies including Thailand, Poland and Romania, according to the report.

“The CIA appears to generally have been involved in the capture and transfer of prisoners, as well as in providing questions for those held in foreign prisons,” it said.

“Equally, little is known about the amount of detainees who have been held at the request of other states such as the United Kingdom and Canada,” it said.

The U.N. investigators welcomed commitments by the Obama administration to close CIA detention facilities when it took office a year ago but said clarification was needed on what had happened to any people held in CIA sites in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The study was led by Manfred Nowak, U.N. special rapporteur on torture, and Martin Scheinin, special rapporteur on terrorism and human rights.

Editing by Jonathan Lynn and Michael Roddy