Video: Report: Evidence of torture at Gitmo

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updated 2/13/2006 7:52:13 PM ET 2006-02-14T00:52:13

There were harsh words Monday from a United Nations panel examining treatment of "enemy combatants" at the Guantanamo Bay prison, run by the U.S. The independent panel says there's evidence of torture. But U.S. officials say the report amounts to hearsay from investigators who never even visited the infamous prison.

A draft report by independent U.N. experts concludes that Guantanamo Bay should be closed immediately and detainees either put on trial or released. The report claims that U.S. practices there violate detainees' physical and mental health and, in some cases, constitute torture.

"The U.N. report reminds us that there is no legal basis for holding most of the detainees at Gitmo, and there are still very serious questions about the way they have been treated," says Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch.

The report is most critical of "excessive violence" when detainees are force-fed during hunger strikes and when they are allegedly shackled and beaten while being moved. It says both practices amount to torture. 

A top State Department official was furious Monday.

"These are people who never went to Guantanamo Bay," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. "So this is baseless assertion."

The U.S. says it offered U.N. experts a visit to Guantanamo Bay but was turned down. The U.S. would not let the U.N. team question detainees. The U.S. also argues that it has legal authority to hold the detainees, because the country is at war.

A senator who once criticized abuses at the prison says there have been significant reforms.

"Our treatment of detainees really is a model for running a military prison," says Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Others argue that most of the 490 detainees still in Guantanamo Bay belong in prison.  

"Many of them are extremely dangerous people," says retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, now an NBC News military analyst. "More than a dozen that we've released already have gone back to attack the U.S. forces."

This report now must be considered by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which critics say has a questionable track record. They note that three years ago the commission was chaired by Libya, long accused of abusing human rights.

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