Amnesty International on Wednesday called the U.S. military’s anti-terror prison at Guantanamo Bay the “gulag of our times” and warned that American leaders may face international prosecution for mistreating prisoners.
“When the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights, it grants a license to others to commit abuse with impunity and audacity,” said Amnesty Secretary-General Irene Khan at a London news conference releasing the group’s annual report on global human rights.
The influential human-rights monitoring group has criticized U.S. detention practices before. But Tuesday marked its first call for closing Guantanamo, and the group used unusually sharp language in demanding an independent investigation of torture and abuse of prisoners there and at detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan called the charges of widespread abuse “ridiculous” and said the United States was on top of the situation. “We hold people accountable when there’s abuse,” he said. “We take steps to prevent it from happening again.”
The Amnesty report focused in part on past events, such as the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, Bush administration legal memos narrowing the definition of torture, and more than a half-dozen deaths of prisoners in custody. But it also reflected a crescendo of concerns about conditions at Guantanamo, where about 550 prisoners from more than 30 nations are held as “enemy combatants,” outside the protections of the Geneva Conventions.
Released Guantanamo prisoners have complained of brutal interrogations and inhumane treatment, and lawyers, who got access to the prison under a Supreme Court decision last year, have questioned the government’s basis for holding many of the prisoners. FBI agents, in memos released late last year, questioned the use of painful stress positions and other tactics during military interrogations.
To date, the portions of military investigations made public have found only limited abuses by low-level soldiers and officers, but Wednesday a bipartisan group of more than 30 lawyers, former military officers and former government officials assembled by the Constitution Project, a Washington advocacy group, echoed Amnesty’s call for an independent investigation of prisoner abuse.