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Annan: Shut Guantanamo prison camp

U.N. report calls for terrorism suspects to be tried or released

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Annan says the prisoners at Guantanamo need to be "given a chance to explain themselves."

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UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has backed a U.N. report calling for the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to be shut down, saying he hoped it would happen "as soon as is possible."

In a report out Thursday, U.N. experts said the United States should close the Guantanamo Bay camp "without further delay" and either try the roughly 500 detainees held there or release them.

"There's a lot in the report, and I cannot say that I necessarily agree with everything," Annan said. But he said the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay can't be held "in perpetuity" and need to be "given a chance to explain themselves."

"I think sooner or later there will be a need to close Guantanamo, and I think it will be up to the government to decide, hopefully, to do it as soon as is possible," he said.

The Bush administration dismissed the findings of the report, with White House spokesman Scott McClellan calling it "a rehash" of claims made by lawyers for some of those prisoners.

The 54-page report concluded that prisoners held in Guantanamo, most of whom were captured in the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, should be able to challenge the legality of their detention before a judicial body and be released if no grounds for imprisonment are found. (Watch clips of dramatic new film about Gitmo detainees -- 2:23)

"This right is currently being violated," it added. "The executive branch of the United States government operates as judge, prosecutor and defense counsel of the Guantanamo Bay detainees."

The United States has defended the use of the facility to hold "enemy combatants" without charges for as long as the "war on terror" may last.

But detention without charges runs counter to established human-rights law, and the "war on terror" does not constitute an armed conflict under international law, the report concluded.

The report -- which will be presented to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights -- was based on interviews with former detainees, lawyers, public documents, media reports and a questionnaire filled out by the U.S. government.

U.S. officials argued that the United Nations had gotten only one side of the story.

McClellan criticized the report's authors for not visiting the prison camp, located on a U.S. Navy base near the eastern tip of Cuba. But Manfred Nowak, one of the report's authors, said U.S. officials barred them from speaking to the detainees -- a condition he called unacceptable.

"We are serious, objective, independent fact-finders," Nowak told CNN. "We would undermine the U.N.'s fact-finding capacities if we were to accept an invitation that we are not accepting from any other state in the world.

"The U.S. government itself is very strong on these terms of reference for other governments," Nowak said. "Then they want an exception for the United States."

The report called for U.S. officials to put an end to "special interrogation techniques" and to stop sending detainees to countries where there are "substantial grounds for believing" they might be tortured -- a process called extraordinary rendition.

The United States has denied it mistreats prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, which McClellan said houses "dangerous terrorists."

"They are people that are determined to harm innocent civilians or harm innocent Americans," he said. "They were enemy combatants picked up on the battlefield in the war on terrorism. They are trained to provide false information."

U.N.: Treatment amounts to torture

But the U.N. report found that interrogation techniques authorized by the Department of Defense, "particularly if used simultaneously, amount to degrading treatment in violation of ... the Convention against Torture."

For example, indefinite periods of detention and prolonged solitary confinement amount to torture, the report said.

And it noted a "profound deterioration" in the mental health of many being held on the island. In 2003, more than 350 acts of self-harm were reported, along with individual and mass suicide attempts and hunger strikes, it said.

The report also singled out health professionals for criticism, noting that some appear to have been "complicit in abusive treatment of detainees detrimental to their health."

Ambassador Kevin Edward Moley, a permanent representative of the United States to the United Nations, said the report "does not reflect the direct, personal knowledge" that a visit would have provided.

And John Bellinger, a legal adviser for the State Department, said representatives of the International Committee for the Red Cross are the "appropriate" people to interview prisoners. But the Red Cross is barred from speaking publicly about conditions they find in detention facilities.

The U.N. report said every detainee must be given the right to complain about his treatment and have any complaints dealt with "promptly and, if requested, confidentially," it said.

Any allegations of "torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" must be investigated by an independent authority and those involved -- "up to the highest level of military and political command" -- must be brought to justice, it concluded.

It found that victims of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment should be compensated by the U.S. government, and people who work in the camp's detention facilities should be trained to respect human-rights standards for the treatment of prisoners -- including their right to freedom of religion.

It added that some interrogation techniques "are aimed at offending the religious feelings of detainees," a conclusion it deemed "of particular concern."

Human-rights group Amnesty International said it welcomed the report but called Guantanamo Bay "just the tip of the iceberg."

"The United States also operates detention facilities at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq and has been implicated in the use of secret detention facilities in other countries," the group's statement said.

Copyright 2006 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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