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US church body joins UN in call to close Guantanamo facility

The US National Council of Churches is calling on the government in the United States to close its detention centre on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, following a United Nations report that recommended the immediate closure of the facility.

The NCC’s general secretary, Robert Edgar, sent a letter to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterating a request made in 2003 and 2004 that the council be allowed to send a delegation to Guantanamo Bay. He said the NCC, the largest ecumenical grouping in the United States, wanted "to monitor the physical, mental and spiritual condition of the detainees".

"Unless our government quickly allows independent, credible access to the detainees, the charges made in the UN report will only take on greater weight," Edgar wrote in his letter to Rice, released on 16 February.

Separately, Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in a BBC radio broadcast, described the camp as a "horrendous subversion" of the law. The South African Anglican cleric said the detention camp was a stain on the character of the United States as a superpower and a democracy. He also attacked Britain’s 28-day detention period for terror suspects, calling it excessive and untenable.

Tutu said he was alarmed that arguments used by South Africa’s apartheid regime were now being used to justify anti-terror measures. "It is disgraceful and one cannot find strong enough words to condemn what Britain and the United States and some of their allies have accepted," he said.

The 15 February report by the UN Commission on Human Rights criticised actions taken at the US facility, particularly recent forced feeding it said had taken place of inmates protesting their treatment. The report said the US "should refrain from any practice amounting to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".

Edgar said the NCC strongly supported the recommendations of the UN report noting its concern about torture was based on "the fundamental Christian belief in the dignity of the human person created in the image of God, and on the rights accorded all persons by virtue of their humanity".

The UN report was endorsed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan but was criticised by the administration of President George W. Bush whose spokesperson Scott McClellan said it "appears to be a rehash of some of the allegations that have been made by lawyers for some of the detainees".

(c) Ecumenical News International