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Human Rights Body Slams U.S. Treatment of Youth Detainee

by Catherine Komp

Mar. 23, 2006 – An international human rights commission has ruled that the detention of a Canadian youth at the US prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba presents a "serious and urgent risk of irreparable harm" to the detainee. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) also expressed concerns that statements obtained from Khadr through alleged torture and inhumane treatment could be used against him in a military tribunal.

The case concerned Guantánamo detainee Omar Khadr, captured in 2002 by US forces in Afghanistan after a firefight and later transported to Guantánamo Bay. Khadr was 15 years old at the time of his capture. As reported by The NewStandard last week, the US government held Khadr without access to a lawyer for over two years and finally charged him last November with conspiring with Al-Qaeda and throwing a grenade that killed Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer, a commando with the US Army Special Forces.

Khadr has alleged that interrogators and US military personnel have tortured and humiliated him during his detention.

In an attempt to stop Khadr’s trial by military tribunal, his lawyers brought the case before the IACHR, an independent organ of the Organization of American States established to protect human rights in the Western Hemisphere. They accused the government of violating Khadr’s rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child by detaining him with adult detainees, denying him access to counsel, and subjecting him to humiliation and torture.

In ruling on the case Tuesday, the IACHR faulted the US government for only providing general statements about its prohibitions on torture during last week’s hearing and for failing to respond specifically to Khadr’s allegations of mistreatment.

"Similarly," wrote the Commissioners, "in response to questions raised by the Commission during the hearing concerning whether the state has taken any measures to investigate [Khadr’s] allegations of abuse, the state’s representative indicated that it was the policy of the United States to investigate all credible allegations of torture but otherwise declined to provide further information, citing privacy concerns."

In response to the ruling Sheku Sheikholeslami, a member of Khadr’s defense team, told The NewStandard, "The call for the United States to take immediate action, to ensure that Omar is not subjected to torture, cruel treatment or prolonged detention is really key in compelling the United States to live up to its obligations under international law and to protect Omar’s rights."

The IACHR, which can only make recommendations to the US to change its policies, requested that it ensure that Khadr is not subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; that it respect international prohibitions against use of statements obtained through torture in legal proceedings; and that it conduct an impartial investigation into Khadr’s allegations of torture and mistreatment and prosecute any individuals involved in such treatment.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department announced Wednesday that it is considering issuing a new rule that would forbid the use of evidence obtained through torture in military tribunals. Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman told Pentagon reporters that "it is something that is being looked at as a possible way to eliminate any doubt that the [UN] Convention Against Torture, Article 15, is understood and is applicable to these prosecutions."

Khadr’s defense team brought his case before the IACHR in an effort to stop his military trial, which began in January and is expected to reconvene in April, arguing that the US was in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international treaty to which it is a party. While the Commission did not rule on the legality of bringing Khadr before a military tribunal, it invited defense attorneys to submit a petition to open a fuller inquiry into the tribunals.

The Commission, which issues "precautionary measures" requesting that states take urgent measures to avoid irreparable harm to individuals, asked the US to provide information showing compliance with their recommendations within 15 days.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

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This News Report originally appeared in the March 23, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Catherine Komp is a contributing journalist.

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