A new report from
the UN Commission on Human Rights concludes by calling on the
United States to close its detention facility at Guantanamo Bay
"without further delay."
The report, issued by a body that counts Sudan, Cuba, China and
Zimbabwe as current members, alleges torture at the Guantanamo
facility, and demands that "all persons found to have perpetrated,
ordered, tolerated or condoned such practices, up to the highest
level of military and political command," presumably including the
U.S. President and the Secretary of Defense, be "brought to
These demands, however, are groundless. None of the report's
authors toured Guantanamo, despite an invitation from the
and so the report is based largely upon recycled allegations,
without legal foundation, from well-coached former detainees. As
the United Nations tries desperately to recover from waves of
corruption scandals, it seeks to shift attention to its favorite
target, Washington's prosecution of the war on terrorism. The
Guantanamo report, based on little more than innuendo,
unsubstantiated claims, and conjecture, is just such a ploy and
deserves to be rejected out of hand.
Dealing with the
Long War's Enemies
In the wake of
combat operations in Afghanistan, the United States established a
detention facility at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay,
Cuba. The primary purpose of detention during war is to prevent
combatants from returning to the battlefield. The facility provides
a safe and secure place to hold and interrogate dangerous
combatants while operating in accordance with U.S. law and
applicable treaty obligations. In addition, military commissions
were established to determine the validity and disposition of
detainees, including, in some cases, long-term detention. The U.S.
Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that such military commissions are
appropriate under American and international law.
Guantanamo was a measured and effective response to the 9/11
terrorist attacks and must be considered in the context of the
greatest assault on the United States since Pearl Harbor. As
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has pointed out, "It is important
we never forget the context in which this happened, which is the
context of the war in Afghanistan and the reason for that is the
slaughter of 3,000 innocent people on September 11."
detention of dangerous suspects requires modern facilities. There
must be adequate security to ensure the safety of the U.S. soldiers
guarding detainees and to safeguard prisoners. Modern medical and
support facilities are required, as well as the infrastructure to
support military commissions and legal consul for the detainees.
Constructing all this in the theater of active combat was not an
option, as such facilities will be little more than targets for
terrorists. There are at present 500 detainees at Guantanamo and a
further 200 have been released or returned to their country of
origin. About 25 of those freed have since taken up arms again
against the United States.
inception, the Guantanamo operations have faced intense
international scrutiny. The International Red Cross periodically
inspects the facilities and has unfettered direct access to
detainees. It presents its findings directly to the U.S.
government. In addition, more than 100 Members of Congress have
visited the facility, and so have 170 representatives of the
national and international media and many representatives of
The UN Commission on
Within the ailing
United Nations system, one would be hard-pressed to find a more
dysfunctional or discredited agency than the Commission on Human
Rights. For many years, it has been widely seen as the plaything of
dictators, keen to steer the UN away from serious investigation
into their affairs. About a quarter of the commission's current
membership is made up of repressive regimes.
The Sudanese government, one of the most barbaric dictatorships of
modern times, has sat on the commission for the past three years
while actively coordinating a campaign of genocide by the Janjaweed
militias in the Darfur region of the country, which has already
left up to 300,000 dead. Another brutal dictatorship, Libya,
chaired the 53-strong commission in 2003-04.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan, usually tolerant of dictatorial
governments, acknowledges the need for a complete overhaul of the
UN's human rights apparatus:
reached a point at which the commission's declining credibility has
cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a
whole and where piecemeal reforms will not be enough. The
commission's ability to perform its tasks has been overtaken by new
needs and undermined by the politicization of its sessions and the
selectivity of its work.
endorsed the Guantanamo report so soon after acknowledging the
commission's complete dysfunction and failure is a staggering act
The Motives and
Background of the UN's Rapporteurs
This latest report
is little more than a selective and politicized document from a
thoroughly condemned body. The commission's claim that it was
written by a team of "independent investigators" is incredible.
Rather, the authors are all long-serving UN 'Rapporteurs,' part and
parcel of the UN's widely disparaged human rights apparatus.
The UN's Guantanamo
Chairman Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers
Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or
Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Austria)
Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief
Paul Hunt, Special
Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest
Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health (New Zealand)
The chair of the
investigation, Leila Zerrougui, is president of the UN working
group on "arbitrary detention" and previously headed the UN
Subcommittee for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights
between 2000 and 2004. She is also a judge on the Supreme Court of
Algeria, a country with a very poor human rights record
and has held positions in Algeria's Ministry of Justice and
Presidency of the Republic.
It is extraordinary that an Algerian public official, whose own
government stands accused of presiding over the disappearance of
thousands of people in the 1990s,
now sits in judgment of the United States. To promote full
transparency and accountability, the United Nations should release
the complete details of Zerrougui's service for the Algerian
Further, a survey
of the backgrounds of Zerrougui's colleagues on the UN's Guantanamo
investigation reveals in some instances extreme and highly biased
views regarding the U.S.-led war on terrorism, as well as a
trigger-happy willingness to make unsubstantiated allegations
against the United States and key allies.
While serving as
the UN's Special Rapporteur on Extra Judicial, Summary or Arbitrary
Executions, Asma Jahangir defended 18 Pakistani nationals deported
by the United States in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on a
platform provided by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU),
declaring that "they do not have the resources to defend themselves
against the tyrannical behavior of a superpower."
Jahangir, former chair of Pakistan's Human Rights Commission,
strongly opposed U.S. military action against the Taliban regime in
Afghanistan by demonstrating on the streets of Lahore
and subsequently undertook a 10-day investigative mission to
Afghanistan to probe alleged "massacres" of captured Taliban and
al-Qaeda fighters by the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance.
Early in 2002, Jahangir had called for an urgent investigation into
reports, quickly discredited, of "summary executions" of
Palestinians by Israeli troops at the Jenin refugee camp.
The UN's own inquiry into Jenin subsequently concluded that there
had been no massacre by the Israeli Defense Force.
Paul Hunt, a
fellow rapporteur on the UN's Guantanamo commission, has been
particularly exercised by U.S. military operations in Iraq. In his
unique role as "Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the
Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental
Health," Hunt demanded an "independent inquiry" into the American
offensive against al-Qaeda-backed insurgents in the Iraqi city of
Fallujah in May 2004 to investigate "credible allegations that the
Coalition Forces have been guilty of serious breaches of
international humanitarian and human rights law."
Like Hunt, Manfred
Nowak, the UN's "Special Rapporteur on Torture" appears just as
concerned with the conduct of the U.S.-led war on terrorism as he
is with the terrorist threat that America and its allies are
confronting. In a recent newspaper interview, Nowak equated the
actions of terrorists with the anti-terror tactics of the United
States. Nowak observed that "the world is more dangerous: on the
one hand due to terrorists, and on the other due to actions taken
in the fight against terrorism, which are violating international
Nowak, a law professor who has worked with the United Nations for
over 10 years, has also accused the United States of holding
terrorist suspects in secret facilities on U.S. ships in
international waters and has launched his own inquiry into that
In addition to his
personal crusade to expose abuses by the United States, Nowak has
also targeted the British government's new anti-terror legislation,
threatening to report Britain to the UN General Assembly for human
Nowak criticized a UK proposal to deport Islamic extremists and has
called on Britain to reverse its plan to draw up 'memorandums of
understanding' with Middle Eastern and African countries to whom
Britain would send terror suspects.
U.S. Policy Must be
Dictated by the National Interest
Guantanamo report is a highly charged political polemic that lacks
credibility and should have no bearing on U.S. detention policies.
Rather, the long-term future of the Guantanamo facility must be
decided by the overriding national security criteria. The U.S.
military should do what is best to secure the nation and its allies
against the threat of transnational terrorism while continuing to
respect its obligations to follow U.S. law, including applicable
international treaties. So far, Guantanamo has succeeded as an
effective tool in the war on terrorism, and the absence of any
terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since 2001 is a testament to
policy cannot be dictated by supranational institutions such as the
United Nations. U.S. policy on Guantanamo Bay can only be set by
the President and the United States Congress, in consultation with
America's allies and treaty partners-not by bureaucrats in Turtle
Bay or Geneva. A U.S. decision to give in and close the Guantanamo
facility would not only undermine America's security but also be a
major propaganda victory for al-Qaeda and its affiliates, who would
portray it as the humbling of a superpower.
The United Nations
should focus on combating real human rights abuses in countries
such as Syria, Iran, Burma, and North Korea, as well as members of
its own human rights commission, including Sudan and Zimbabwe.
Further, the UN must finally put an end to abuses in its
peacekeeping operations, where acts of great cruelty toward
defenseless refugees have irreparably tarnished the world body's
UN officials and peacekeepers must be brought to justice for the
rape and abuse of the people they are supposed to be
The UN, which has
struggled for decades to even agree on a definition of terrorism,
once again demonstrates a clear lack of moral clarity in its
release of the commission's Guantanamo report. The United States,
as well as key allies such as Great Britain, should reject the
hectoring of unelected UN officials and call upon the world body to
take a more positive role in combating international terrorism. The
UN must be reminded that appeasement of violent extremists is
always doomed to failure.
Gardiner, Ph.D., is the Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow at the
Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, and James
Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow for Defense and
Homeland Security, in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute
for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation. The authors
are grateful to Todd Gaziano, Director, Center for Legal and
Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation, for his advice and
suggestions. Laura Keith and Ewan Watt assisted with research for