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

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's largely slipped from public notice, but the United States is still holding 30 men at the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that was established after the September 11 attacks. Some are suspected of plotting those attacks. A new report from a United Nations investigator finds conditions at the detention center are, quote, "cruel, inhuman and degrading." A Martínez spoke with Fionnuala Ni Aolain, who is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

With those detainees, what did they tell you about how they're treated there, about how their life is like there?

FIONNUALA NI AOLAIN: Well, I think one of the things that my report sort of meticulously documents - and I start from saying conditions of confinement have improved significantly at Guantanamo Bay. And every single man I spoke to recognized and acknowledged that from the days of their first rendition and torture, things had certainly got better. And the report reflects that, at a minimum, those standards - minimum standards of compliance are met with in terms of the room, the food, access to adequate places to sleep, to exercise. All of those minimum things have certainly been put in place by the U.S. government.

But my conversations with these men also reflected deep and profound challenges they experience, and the report details those at some length. Their names are not used. They're called or identified by number. They are shackled when they move inside the facility, including when they met with me. And they spoke at length about their health - their psychological health, their physical health. For many of these men, as my report notes, the difference between the past and the present of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is really thin. And for some of them, that time lapse doesn't exist at all. Many of them experience and describe and evidenced profound suffering, profound anxiety.

So those were, I think, part of what I reflected in the report - both welcoming, acknowledging, affirming the importance of this visit and the openness that enabled it, but also documenting the really challenging reality of arbitrariness and what I found to be cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment for these men in their day-to-day lives in this detention facility.

MARTÍNEZ: And you offered a roadmap to fix the prison. What was in that roadmap?

NI AOLAIN: So the place to start is with torture rehabilitation. These are elderly, some of them frail, some of the disabled - many men suffering a variety of health, both psychological and physical ailments. In order to get past that, we have to radically transform health care for these men at this detention facility. We need holistic torture rehabilitation, and that means really fixing and rebuilding the bounds of trust of these men and providing holistic, specialized torture rehabilitation. The U.S. is one of the best countries in the world at doing this. It's a leader in torture rehabilitation. And so we have to bring that capacity to bear into the detention facility.

We also need these men to have access to their families in a regular way. They cannot recover from torture and they cannot be fully allowed to live their dignified lives if they don't have regular access to their family. And as I note in the report, 20 of these men were cleared. They have been told they can go home. And yet, even as they remain in this facility, they don't have regular, continuous, unimpeded access to their families. But the U.S. government, to meet its international human rights obligations, but also to serve as a marker, as a measure for other countries, can and should do better to be fully compliant.

MARTÍNEZ: Fionnuala Ni Aolain is a law professor serving as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights. Thank you very much.

NI AOLAIN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLEEP DEALER'S "THE WAY HOME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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