Pentagon Report Underscores Need for Independent Monitoring of Conditions at Guantanamo

A report issued by the Pentagon yesterday concluded that the conditions of confinement at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility comply with the humane-treatment requirements of the Geneva Conventions. The report was completed at President Obama’s request by Vice Admiral Patrick M. Walsh, the vice chief of naval operations.

Admiral Walsh acknowledged yesterday in a press conference that his team did not attempt to determine whether the camp had complied with the Geneva standards throughout its seven-year history. “I was not in a position to look back,” Walsh said at a Pentagon briefing. “My mandate was specifically to determine whether the camp was in compliance today, and it is.”

For years, prisoners’ attorneys have detailed inhumane conditions of confinement at Guantanamo, including extreme isolation, lack of access to fresh air and natural light, limited access to attorneys, mental health deterioration, hunger strikes and the force feeding of hunger strikers. This report underscores the need for independent and transparent monitoring of detention conditions. Human Rights First released a statement on the report:

Though Human Rights First supports many of the improvements recommended in Admiral Walsh’s report, and encourages their implementation as soon as possible, Admiral Walsh’s findings stand in stark contrast to the real-time accounts of prisoners and their attorneys. We welcome the recommendation that President Obama consider inviting non-governmental organizations to Guantanamo, and we reiterate our request for full access to the detention facility so that we may examine the conditions there and, as improvements are made, credibly, independently and publicly report them to the world. Such access and reporting would set an example of transparency and inspire domestic and international confidence that the United States is re-committed to the humane treatment of prisoners in its care.

Given that Admiral Walsh was not in a position to “look back” the Pentagon report doesn’t address past violations of the Geneva Conventions at Guantanamo. As the administration works to improve conditions and close Guantanamo, an independent body should conduct a full investigation into past conditions of detention there, so that we can learn from past mistakes and abuses, and ensure that they are not permitted to occur again.

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Published on February 24, 2009

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