Rights Groups Urge Obama to Mount Guantanamo Probe
Two human rights groups urged the future Obama administration on
Wednesday to appoint a well-funded commission with subpoena power to
systematically examine the U.S. treatment of detainees at Guantanamo
and elsewhere since the 9/11 attacks.
Activists at the University of California, Berkeley, and the New
York-based Center for Constitutional Rights made the recommendation as
they released a two-year study of the impact of U.S. detention and
interrogation practices on former captives at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
report, based on interviews with 62 released detainees, found that many
of the detainees, even after they were released, faced emotional scars
and had difficulty finding jobs once they returned to their home
countries. A third of the detainees believed they had been sold into
captivity. Nearly two-thirds said they had suffered emotional
difficulties since leaving Guantanamo, and recalled traumatic treatment
such as short shackling and being held in hot or cold extremes.
a third reported their faith had strengthened in captivity Many
described their treatment while in U.S. custody as "abusive" and said
they did not understand the quasi judicial proceedings they'd
participated in prior to their release.
investigation published earlier this year, also based on interviews
with released prisoners, reached similar conclusions.
included a forward by Patricia Wald, a former U.S. appeals court judge
who served on the international tribunal that prosecuted war crimes in
the former Yugoslavia. Wald also was appointed by President George W.
Bush to the commission that studied U.S. intelligence failures in Iraq.
"I was struck by the similarity between the abuse they suffered and the
abuse we found inflicted upon Bosnia Muslim prisoners in Serbian
camps," Wald wrote of the U.S. detainees.
"The officials and
guards in charge of those prison camps and the civilian leaders who
sanctioned their establishment were prosecuted - often by former U.S.
government and military lawyers serving with the tribunal - for war
crimes, crimes against humanity and, in extreme cases, genocide," she
added. Wald later was appointed by President George W. Bush to the
commission that sutdied U.S. intelligence failures in Iraq.
The proposal for a special investigation of detention policies similar to the 9/11 Commission is not new.
it comes at a critical time -- as Democrats are creating a transition
for President-elect Barack Obama, who campaigned on a promise to close
the controversial prison camps in southeast Cuba.
The groups do
not specifically recommend who should run the panel, or any other
aspect of its composition, but they suggest members be drawn from the
ranks of former military officers, medical and psychological providers,
and international law experts.
They say the group should tackle
still-open questions surrounding the interrogation, detention and
rehabilitation of former detainees, with an eye toward recommending
criminal investigations if it uncovers "any crimes at all levels of the
chain of command.''
The report recommends that any future commission consider:
-- Whether there is a need to reform how the United States apprehends and screens suspected enemy fighters.
-- Ideas on how to prevent abusive detention and interrogation practices.
How to improve the monitoring of treatment of former detainees upon
their release from U.S. custody. Should the commission conclude the
U.S. government violated a detainee's rights, it said, it should
consider issuing an apology, providing compensation or a method of
formally clearing the detainee's name to lessen any stigma associated
with time served in southeast Cuba.
The Defense Department holds
about 250 foreign men in the prison camps today and has already sent
home for resettlement or further investigation some 520 others.
of U.S. detention and interrogation policy have at times called for a
special prosecutor to investigate whether White House policies that
endorsed such practices as waterboarding of CIA detainees violated
In July, New York Times columnist Nicholas
Kristof urged the U.S. to set up a ''Truth Commission'' armed with
subpoena power to establish accountability, not necessarily to bring
Its objective, he wrote, should be "to lead a process of soul searching and national cleansing.''
was what South Africa did after apartheid, with its Truth and
Reconciliation Commission, and it is what the United States did with
the Kerner Commission on race and the 1980s commission that examined
the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.''
Vincent Warren of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has
helped Guantanamo detainees sue for their freedom, disagreed with the
idea on Wednesday.
He said such commissions are on occasion
established after regime change abroad, to uncover truths and move on.
Should crimes be uncovered, he said, those responsible should be