"They were assumed to be guilty and were coerced, day after day, night after night, into finally giving false confessions that they knew Osama bin Laden. It was done in a variety of ways. It was done in part by shackling them to the floor for 12 hours at a time -- they weren't even allowed to get up to urinate; by loud noises; by sleep deprivation, food deprivation; beatings by a squad called the Emergency Response Force," said Michael Ratner from the Center for Constitutional Rights, a U.S. nonprofit civil rights group.
Ratner's remarks came after the British citizens released a report alleging they were subjected to "systematic abuse" while detained by U.S. forces at the Guantanamo Bay facility in Cuba.
"What we are calling for at the Center [for Constitutional Rights] is that there be a full investigation going up the whole chain of command"
The 115-page report by the three young British Muslims was the latest in a series of allegations of prisoner abuse by United States forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the U.S. naval facility in Cuba.
The Britons, captured in Afghanistan in 2002 and released in March from custody at Guantanamo, are known as the "Tipton Three," as they all hail from the central English town of Tipton. They were released from British custody immediately upon their return to the United Kingdom.
Ratner said there is no evidence that they or other detainees in Cuba were tortured or sexually humiliated, as were Iraqi prisoners at Baghdad's Abu Ghurayb prison. But he nonetheless called the treatment at Guantanamo inhumane and illegal, and alleged that prisoner abuse is an official policy of the U.S. war on terror -- an allegation that U.S. officials vehemently reject.
"This [alleged prisoner abuse] was a policy, I think, at the highest levels of the United States. And what we are calling for at the Center [for Constitutional Rights] is that there be a full investigation going up the whole chain of command, all the way up through the generals and into the Defense Department itself, including our Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. We think what happened here was authorized from the top," Ratner said.
U.S. Navy Secretary Gordon England, speaking to reporters on a visit to Guantanamo Bay on 4 August, denied prisoners had been abused at the detention facility. England said people should be very wary of such allegations and that Islamic militants are waging "a war of words and propaganda" and will "do whatever they can defeat us and sow mistrust."
England also defended new hearings granted to prisoners in Guantanamo Bay to determine if they are -- as the Bush administration has called them -- "enemy combatants" ineligible to be protected as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions. "I believe that we have gone above and beyond, frankly, probably what any other country's done, or the United States in the past. I mean, this is a very high standard that we're meeting, and we are meeting this standard. And I'll tell you that I'm very proud to be part of it," England said.
The hearings yesterday were the first at Guantanamo, where almost 600 alleged Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants have been held. The hearings were set up after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the prisoners have the right to contest their cases in U.S. courts.
Civil rights advocate Ratner said the "Tipton Three" had released their report in hopes of helping other Guantanamo inmates. He said the document will be used in a court battle U.S. activists are waging to shut down the detention center.