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Rights groups urge independent commission on US treatment of detainees

[JURIST] Authors of a new report [text, PDF] on detainees released from US detention in Guantanamo Bay [Global Security backgrounder; JURIST news archive] are urging US president-elect Barack Obama [official website; JURIST news archive] to form an independent, nonpartisan commission with subpoena powers to investigate the treatment of US detainees in Guantanamo as well as in facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq [JURIST news archives]. The report, released on Wednesday by human rights experts at the University of California, Berkeley, in partnership with the Center for Constitutional Rights [advocacy website], concludes that detainees were subjected to interrogation methods that appear to have violated domestic and international prohibitions on torture and other cruel treatment:

By adopting a “take the gloves off” approach, top US civilian and military leaders established unprecedented parameters for the treatment of detainees at US detention facilities in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, and other locations. This permissive environment allowed—if not encouraged—guards and interrogators to dehumanize and, in some cases, torture detainees in their custody. The totality of this experience deeply affected the lives of former detainees—many of whom government officials believe were imprisoned in error. Stigmatized by their imprisonment, a significant number of these detainees now face difficulties finding employment, and some report lasting emotional and psychological scars.
The authors warn that any commission established by Obama must not be undercut by the issuance of pardons, amnesties, or other measures that would shield culprits from accountability. More than half of the respondents in the study characterized their interrogation sessions as "abusive," citing stress positions, prolonged solitary confinement, and exposure to extreme temperatures, loud music, and strobe lights for extended periods. Reuters has more.

Obama is reported to have made no decisions [JURIST report] as yet regarding the future of the Guantanamo Bay prison, although advisers says he is ultimately committed to closing it. Prohibitions against torture and inhuman treatment are firmly embedded in US law and include the Torture Victim Protection Act (1991), the Torture Convention Implementation Act (1994), the War Crimes Act (1996), the Detainee Treatment Act (2005) [texts], the Military Commissions Act (2006) [text, PDF], and the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the US Constitution.

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