LONDON, Nov. 18 (UPI) -- The United States government was roundly condemned by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights Friday for refusing to allow it full access to its detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. "The writ of international human rights does not stop at the gates of Guantanamo Bay," said the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to health, Paul Hunt, announcing a full investigation into the human rights of detainees at the Cuban camp.
Speaking at a human rights conference hosted by Amnesty International in London, Hunt said he had been requesting access to Guantanamo for two years, and was "extremely disappointed" at the decision.
"I am very anxious for this access because of consistent and credible reports of alleged serious violations of the rights and cultures of detainees. According to reports there has been a worrying and alarming deterioration in the mental health of many detainees. It is alleged that there are dozens of suicide attempts, reportedly medical staff have assisted in the design of interrogation strategies, including sleep deprivation and other coercive measures."
Hunt stressed: "The writ of international human rights does not stop at the gates of Guantanamo Bay. It is imperative to the integrity of the United Nations and its human rights mechanisms that Guantanamo Bay and similar facilities elsewhere do not escape the international accountability that has been carefully constructed by states in recent decades to safeguard the human rights of individuals."
In a tacit reference to statements made by U.S. President George W. Bush on the Guantanamo detainees, Hunt said that to those who argued they were "bad people," he replied that "whether they are good or bad, the rule of law extends to them because they are human beings."
"That is what distinguishes a system of government based on the rule of law from one that is based on publicly exercised punishment. The rule of law cannot be applied selectively. A state cannot apply the rule of law in one place, but not another, to one group of people but not another. The rule of law is not to be turned on and off like a tap."
It was for these reasons that the U.N. Commission on Human Rights had no alternative but to open a full investigation into the health and human rights of detainees at the camp, he said.
The commission continued to hope that the U.S. authorities would grant access on acceptable conditions, he said, a move which would confirm Washington's commitment to human rights and the rule of law.
Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan also condemned the U.S. refusal of access, which she said was "totally unacceptable."
"Guantánamo is just the visible tip of an iceberg of abuse, the most notorious link in a chain of detention camps including Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, prisons in Iraq and secret facilities elsewhere, she said.
While terrorist acts were a threat to security and gross violations of human rights in themselves, she said, "Adopting counter-terrorism measures which create legal black holes and violate more human rights is not the answer.
"Picking people up at random, detaining them for prolonged periods without charge or trial, holding them in secret locations, shunting them around the world from one black site to another, exposing them to torture and ill-treatment, undermines human rights principles, destroys the values of the rule of law and its democratic values, and we resoundingly feel, it leads to more violence."
Khan cited the case of three Yemeni nationals, who had allegedly been picked up in Tanzania and Jordan, and handed over to the United States. The men were held in locations unknown to them for almost two years in total isolation, tortured and beaten, and eventually handed over to the Yemeni authorities, who had told Amnesty "very openly" that they were being held at the request of the United States, she said.
Amnesty had flight logs from the CIA which corroborated the men's stories, she added.
"We believe that there are many more detainees like them being in secret locations, which the CIA calls "black sites,"" she said.
There were reports that some individuals had died while in such facilities, in circumstances suggesting they were tortured, she continued.
"This is totally unacceptable and unlawful. Torture and ill-treatment, incommunicado and secret detentions are all prohibited under international law. Disappearances are crimes under international law, yet all are being committed with impunity by governments, including the United States, which is the self-professed defender of democracy and freedom around the world."
Amnesty's demand was simple, she said: "Shut down Guantanamo or open it up... and disclose the rest."
Clive Stafford Smith, legal director of Reprieve, said his organization could prove several other cases of "extraordinary rendition" -- whereby terror suspects were taken to countries around the world to be interrogated and tortured -- using CIA flight records.
Reprieve could now identify 14,000 prisoners in U.S. custody in locations around the world whose identity had been kept secret, he said.
Referring to the alleged CIA network of so-called "black sites," first reported by the Washington Post earlier this month, Stafford Smith said he was reliably informed that one such location was in Poland, a democratic state which was obliged to uphold human rights conventions as part of its European Union membership.
Moazzam Begg, one of four Britons who were eventually released from Guantanamo after British pressure, said he had seen things in the camp "that you would believe were out of a Nazi manual, or a Stalinist detention camp."
"Is this going to proliferate terrorism, and hate and ignorance? Yes."
United Press International spoke to former Guantanamo detainee Rustam Akhmiarov, a 26-year-old Russian who was held in Pakistan and Afghanistan before being transferred to the Cuban camp.
Ahmiarov said he was studying Arabic at the Islamic university in Karachi when he was picked up by the Pakistani police and imprisoned with no explanation.
After three weeks, he was handed over to U.S. officials for a sum of $5,000, he claimed. He was then taken to Kandahar in Afghanistan where he spent six months in a "concentration camp," and was later transferred to Guantanamo for a further 18 months.
He was kept in solitary confinement for months on end and interrogated on an almost daily basis, he told UPI. He never saw any official charges, or received an explanation as to why he was being held.
"All they wanted me to do was to confess to being a member of al-Qaida, or incriminate someone else," he said.
Ahmiarov claimed he was subjected to a variety of torture techniques, including the administration of mind -altering drugs.
"I was beaten myself, and I saw other people being beaten. I was subjected to torture by cold and by insomnia, and by mind-changing medicines, and dogs as well." Interrogators also insulted and desecrated the Qu'ran, he said.
"I was told I was going to die there, or that by the time I was released my parents would be dead," he continued.
Ahmiarov was eventually extradited to Russia, where he was held for a further four months. He was then released, told by Russian authorities that there was "no evidence against him."
Before his detention, Ahmariov was studying with the aim of becoming an interpreter. Now, however, life would never be normal again, he said.
"At the moment I feel my life is in suspense, because I'll be branded forever as an international terrorist, so I don't know how I can lead a normal life with that brand. Also my family, my relatives, they will be the family and relatives of an international terrorist."
"It can't be erased, it will stay with me forever," he concluded.