U.S. denies U.N. group access to detainees


By The Associated Press and Reuters

WASHINGTON — Spurning a request by U.N. human rights investigators, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday the United States will not allow them to meet with detainees at the Guantánamo prison for foreign terrorism suspects.

Rumsfeld also told a Pentagon news conference that prisoners at the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, were staging a hunger strike that began in early August as a successful ploy to attract media attention.

The three U.N. investigators, including one who focuses on torture, said Monday they would turn down an invitation extended by the Pentagon Friday to visit Guantánamo unless they were permitted to interview the detainees. The invitation came nearly four years after the visits were first requested.

Rumsfeld said the U.S. government will not change its policy of giving such access to detainees only to the International Committee of the Red Cross, a neutral body that keeps its findings confidential.

"There's got to be a limit to how one does that," Rumsfeld said of providing access.

"And the ICRC has been doing it for a great many years and has had complete and total access ever since Guantánamo was opened."

Invitations went to Austria's Manfred Nowak, special investigator on torture, Pakistan's Asma Jahangir, who focuses on religious freedom, and Algeria's Leila Zerrougui, who looks into arbitrary detention.

Human rights activists have criticized the United States for the indefinite detention of the roughly 505 detainees held at Guantánamo. Former prisoners have stated they were tortured there, and the ICRC last year accused the U.S. military of using tactics "tantamount to torture." The military has denied torture has occurred.

The military said Tuesday 27 detainees currently were engaging in the hunger strike, including 24 receiving forced-feedings. Detainees' lawyers estimated that about 200 are taking part.

Asked about the motivation of the hunger strikers, Rumsfeld said, "Well, I suppose that what they're trying to do is to capture press attention, obviously, and they've succeeded."

He added, "There are a number of people who go on a diet where they don't eat for a period and then go off of it at some point. And then they rotate and other people do that."

U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler last week ordered the government to provide medical records on Guantánamo prisoners who are being force-fed and to notify their lawyers about forced feedings.

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