Human rights group calls for closing Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba

An international human rights organization Tuesday called for the immediate closure of the detainee prison at Guantanamo Bay and urged the trial or release of remaining detainees there.

The report from the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in Warsaw, part of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe,  comes as the Obama administration is preparing its own plan to move most of the remaining prisoners to the U.S., despite efforts by GOP leaders in Congress to block him.

Like other organizations that have uncovered alleged human rights abuses at the U.S.-run prison on Cuba, the rights group demanded a “full investigation of past human rights violations, including torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, as well as the prosecution of those responsible.”

“No person should be subject to indefinite detention without trial,” said Michael Georg Link, director of the human rights office, in releasing the 238-page report, which was based largely on interviews with former detainees. “As one of the oldest democracies, the United States of America should lead by example, by making it crystal clear that everyone has the right to a fair trial. The detainees should either be charged or released.”

Also Tuesday, the Senate followed action last week in the House by passing an updated version of the National Defense Authorization Act that President Obama vetoed last month. The White House rejected the funding measure in part because it would continue to block his efforts to close the Guantanamo prison.

The new version reinforces bans on torture, drawing praise from human-rights group, Human Rights First, which said it meant “Congress has finally closed the door on a dark chapter in our nation’s values.”

The language in the amendment states that cruel and inhuman treatment will not be the “official policy of the United States.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday that the president plans to sign the bill when it returns to his desk because it contains a number of provisions “that are important to running and protecting the country.”

But Earnest added that while inclusion of the prohibitions against relocating Guantanamo prisoners to the U.S. is “unfortunate,” it would not have any “material impact” on the president’s ability to put together and send a separate closure plan to Congress.

The White House has yet to unveil its plan for closing the facility. But Earnest said it would require Capitol Hill lawmakers to “put the national interest ahead of their much more narrow, and in comparison trivial, political interest.”

Meanwhile, the White House is expected to announce soon a proposal to move most of the 112 Guantanamo detainees to prisons inside the U.S., despite the ban by Republican lawmakers.

Recently the Pentagon dispatched a small team of Department of Defense officials to conduct site surveys at several federal prison complexes in the U.S. to determine which might be suitable. To date, according to the White House, the teams have visited prisons at Leavenworth, Kan., Charleston, S.C., and Florence, Colo.

Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) on Tuesday blasted Obama’s plan.  “President Obama’s latest attempt to close the Guantanamo detention facility at a time when ISIS and Al Qaeda are opening training camps, is reckless," McCaul said. "If he moves forward with this, it would be blatantly unconstitutional, flouting laws passed by Congress.”

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Since it was opened in January 2002, 780 prisoners have been held at Guantanamo. Of those, 657 have been released or transferred, and nine have died. Today, 112 prisoners are still there, with 52 already recommended for release. Under Obama’s watch, 125 have been released.

The human rights organization's report on Tuesday examined a broad range of human rights abuse allegations, and based its findings on interviews with U.S. government officials, military and civilian lawyers, non-governmental organizations and former detainees. The ODIHR was not given access to current detainees.

In interviewing former detainees, the group found “a severity of abuses inflicted upon them during their detention and interrogations.” The practices, the ODIHR said, “were reportedly designed to break detainees’ will, cause stress and make them cooperate with and wholly dependent on their interrogators who had total control over their level of isolation, access to comfort items and basic needs such as access to food, drinkable water, sunlight or fresh air.”

The organization said that those detainees who did not readily cooperate were inflicted with “severe pain or suffering, leading to the deterioration of their mental health and to physical injuries, including with long-term consequences in some cases.”

Staff writer Christi Parsons contributed to this report.

Richard.Serrano@latimes.com

Twitter: @RickSerranoLAT

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