A recurring sore spot between human rights advocates and U.S. policymakers— the military detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba—is again making headlines. A new UN report says the substandard treatment of detainees there violates the UN Convention Against Torture and calls for the United States to close the facility by either bringing the detainees to trial or setting them free. The report is the product of an eighteen-month investigation by five UN special envoys operating under mandates from the UN Commission on Human Rights. U.S. officials have rejected the report's findings (LAT), pointing out the authors never visited Guantanamo Bay.
The release of the UN report coincides with the publication of more photographs of prisoner abuse in Iraq's now-infamous Abu Ghraib prison in 2003. The acts of abuse depicted in the photos, circulated widely in the Muslim world, were condemned by Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari (BBC).
The torture debate last flared up in December 2005, when Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act, banning "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" against detainees held inside as well as outside U.S. borders. When signing the bill into law, President Bush issued a statement suggesting the legislation's ban of such treatment might be bypassed by his executive authority. A CFR Background Q&A examines the torture debate in a legal context, an interview with two legal experts outlines how the limits of executive power may be decided by the Supreme Court, and a BBC Q&A outlines the legal proceedings against the detainees.
Like the legal discourse on torture, the public debate continues. Writing in the Weekly Standard, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer contends torture is a necessary evil, while CFR Fellow Max Boot suggests reports of prisoner abuse are blown out of proportion. On the other side, Christianity Today offers "5 Reasons Torture is Always Wrong" and Soviet-era prison survivor Vladimir Bukovsky warns of the pitfalls of torture in the Washington Post. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who sponsored the Detainee Treatment Act, writes in Newsweek that such torture tactics "undermine the values we hold dear."
Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth harshly criticized the United States in the introduction to his organization's 2006 World Report, while a new Amnesty International report details recent abuses at Guantanamo Bay. This CFR Background Q&A details how poor treatment of prisoners has put a strain on U.S.-Europe relations; a Congressional Research Service report (PDF) provides more details about the Guantanamo detainees, and an FBI report probes allegations of prisoner abuse at the detention camp.