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Guantánamo Bay detainees continue to face 'inhuman' treatment, U.N. investigator finds

A U.S. Naval officer stands at the entrance of the U.S. prison at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, on Oct. 22, 2016.
John Moore
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A U.S. Naval officer stands at the entrance of the U.S. prison at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, on Oct. 22, 2016.

A United Nations investigator who was given unfettered access to the detention center at the U.S. naval station in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, reports prisoners face "ongoing cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment" and says the infamous site should be shuttered.

Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, spoke Monday about her new report on the treatment of current and former detainees. She said she also met with the victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

It was the first official visit of a U.N. expert to Guantánamo, the group said.

Though Ní Aoláin said detainees who have spent years at the facility continue to be saddled with fair trial and due process violations, she acknowledged that conditions at the detention center had improved in recent years and praised the Biden administration for its public vows to close what's become known as Gitmo.

"The U.S. Government has led by example by being prepared to address the hardest human rights issues," Ní Aoláin said in a statement. "I affirm the openness of the technical visit, the spirit of positive constructive dialogue that sustained it, and the singular importance of access to all detention sites affirmed by it."

The report comes as plea talks for the alleged masterminds behind the 9/11 terror attacks remain stuck in limbo and more than two years after Biden officials said they aimed to close Gitmo. Though the administration has transferred several detainees in recent years, the detention facility remains in operation.

In 2016, President Barack Obama called the prison at Guantánamo Bay "a stain on our broader record" and argued it should be closed, but Donald Trump took a different tack when he became president, proclaiming instead that he would "load [Guantánamo] up with some bad dudes."

Thirty men remain detained at Guantánamo, 19 of whom have never been charged with a crime, Ní Aoláin said.

Her extensive report found that "near-constant surveillance, forced cell extractions, [and] undue use of restraints" are still present in the detention facility, as well as other procedures that violate human rights. She added that many detainees who were tortured have not received "independent, holistic, or adequate" rehabilitation.

Ní Aoláin, a professor at the University of Minnesota and the Queen's University of Belfast's School of Law, also met with repatriated and resettled detainees and said they lacked basic rights and services, such as a legal identity, health care, education, housing, family reunification and the freedom of movement.

Declaring 9/11 a "crime against humanity," Ní Aoláin noted that the victims and survivors of the attacks were enduring "devastating long-term consequences" and said officials should do more to support them.

"While I commend the extensive legislative, social, symbolic, and financial action taken to support 9/11 victims and survivors, more needs to be done to fill significant gaps in realizing their rights to reparation, including comprehensive legislative provision to ensure the long-term security and reliability of compensation and medical entitlements," she said.

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