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Home >> Opinion
UPDATED: 17:11, July 01, 2005
UN investigates secret US prisons
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United Nations human rights experts have begun an investigation into the allegations that US is detaining terrorism suspects in secret locations, said Manfred Nowak, member of the UN investigation team on June 29. Nowak said they are interviewing suspects who have been released by the US authorities in efforts to gain first-hand information.

No longer wait for US cooperation

The undeclared detention sites might include US ships cruising on high seas, said Nowak. He pointed out that allegations by human rights groups such as Amnesty International are very serious.

The Britain-controlled Diego Garcia on the Indian Ocean might be one of the US undeclared detention places outside its homeland, as reckoned by Magnus Ranstorp, director of the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. There is a US air force base on the island.

Most of the experts believe that the US might use one or two of its warships as floating prisons, said Ranstorp. "Putting them (the prison ships) on the high seas means and you don't have to deal with the host country (who are possibly unwilling to take the suspects), he added.

"I have heard these rumors and we have to follow them up," Nowak told The Associated Press.

Nowak said he and three fellow experts decided last week to launch the inquiry without waiting for assurances of US cooperation after holding off for more than three years in hopes Washington would give members access to Guantanamo Bay and other facilities holding suspected terrorists.

Washington denies the allegations

Pentagon spokesman John Skinner denied the allegations by human rights groups, saying the department does not build detention facilities on warships and only Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo have such facilities.

US Department of State spokesman Sean McCormack also said he does not know any information that can verify the "prisons in the sea".

Experts like Nowak have great autonomy in deciding what to investigate and did not need to seek outside approval in launching the inquiry into US detention practices and locations.

"Our long-standing position is that we encourage countries to cooperate with the special rapporteurs of the human rights commission," said Jose Diaz, spokesman for Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. "Their dialogue with the US should continue so that they can be allowed to carry out their work."

US attitude somewhat softened

Nowak expressed disappointment at the US nonchalance. Still, he said, he received the US promise at recent high-level meetings with US that the US Department of State and the Pentagon will make "most prioritized consideration" about the the UN experts' request to visit Guantanamo Bay.

According to McCormack, allowing outsiders to visit Guantanamo prisons will bring about some worries in terms of action and security, but the US is considering Nowak's demand.

Nowak said that four UN human rights experts including himself also would like to visit Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and other US-controlled detention facilities and inquire into the rumors that US detains suspects on ships on high seas.

The team members had begun interviewing former suspects who had been released by the US forces.

Currently, the US only allows officials from the International Federation of Red Cross to visit the Guantanamo prisons, who, however, would not make public the problems they find.

By People's Daily Online

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