MIAMI (Reuters) - The U.S. military’s Guantanamo Bay prison camp currently complies with the Geneva Conventions’ standards for humane treatment, a top U.S. Navy officer concluded on Monday in a review ordered by President Barack Obama.
Vice-Admiral Patrick Walsh led a team of investigators on a 13-day visit to inspect the camp at the U.S. naval base in Cuba and said he had found no violations of the Geneva treaties’ ban on cruel, humiliating or degrading treatment.
The detention operation has been widely seen as a blot on the United States’ human rights record and a symbol of detainee abuse and detention without charge.
Walsh said his team interviewed more than 100 guards, interrogators, senior officers and support staff, and more than a dozen captives held at Guantanamo as suspected al Qaeda or Taliban operatives.
He acknowledged his team had not spoken to former prisoners who have claimed they were tortured, nor did they attempt to determine whether the camp had complied with the Geneva standards throughout its seven-year history.
“I was not in a position to look back,” Walsh said at a Pentagon briefing. “My mandate was specifically to determine whether the camp was in compliance today, and it is.”
His group made several recommendations, chiefly that captives living in one-man cells modeled after maximum-security prisons in the United States be given more opportunities for social interaction and mental stimulation, such as eating and praying with others.
He urged that camp operations be routinely videotaped to provide evidence of how captives are treated.
‘THE MENTAL DIMENSION’
Walsh also urged that U.S. officials try to ease detainees’ anxiety about their future, which could affect their mental health. Frustration about their future prompted some to refuse food and recreation, he said.
“The mental dimension needs to be part of the dialogue on what it takes to be humane,” Walsh said.
He said Obama’s January order to shut down the detention operation within a year had been posted throughout the camp and that, “Everyone knows that the camp will close.”
About 240 captives remain at Guantanamo, including five accused of plotting the September 11 hijacked plane attacks that promoted the U.S. war on terrorism. Only one has been convicted of a crime.
U.S. courts and military review panels have cleared a few dozen others for release, including 17 members of China’s Muslim Uighur minority who were cleared years ago. But they remain at the base because U.S. officials fear they would be tortured if returned to China, will not bring them to the United States and can not find another nation to take them in.
“They are very exasperated by this process,” Walsh said.
Human rights groups disputed Walsh’s findings that the camp was in full compliance with the requirement for humane treatment. They said most Guantanamo prisoners were still held in severe isolation and faced psychological and physical abuse and threats of violence from guards.
“They are caught in a vicious cycle where their isolation causes psychological damage, which causes them to act out, which brings more abuse and keeps them in isolation,” said Pardiss Kebriaei, a staff attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents many of the prisoners.
“If they are going to be there another year, or even another day, this has to end.”
Reporting by Jane Sutton, editing by Jim Loney and Patricia Zengerle