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UN advocate appeals for Gitmo inmates

Washington Post / June 25, 2009
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UNITED NATIONS - The UN’s top human rights advocate, Navanethem Pillay, yesterday appealed to the Obama administration to release Guantanamo Bay inmates or try them in a court of law, and said that officials who authorized the use of torture must be held accountable for their crimes.

In her most detailed statement on US detention policy, the South African lawyer criticized President Obama’s decision to hold some suspected terrorists in detention indefinitely without a trial. She also called for a probe into officials who participated in torture sessions or provided the legal justification for it.

“People who order or inflict torture cannot be exonerated, and the roles of certain lawyers, as well as doctors who have attended torture sessions, should also be scrutinized,’’ Pillay, the United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights, said in a statement dedicated to victims of torture.

Pillay praised the Obama administration for committing to ban many of the harshest interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, authorized by the Bush administration, which she said amounted to torture. But she said it needed to go further, providing victims of US abuses with an opportunity to rebuild their lives.

“I believe we are finally starting to turn the page on this extremely unfortunate chapter of recent history,’’ Pillay said. “But there is still much to do before the Guantanamo chapter is truly brought to a close.’’

The remarks represented the clearest challenge by the UN’s high commissioner to Obama’s decision to limit investigation into past abuses and to continue to hold some detainees who have not been charged with a crime. In May, Obama said some detainees deemed too dangerous to release might have to be held indefinitely.