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The CIA’s destruction of videotapes showing the interrogation of terror suspects gives more reason to fear that detainees face torture, a UN human rights expert said Thursday.
It “is one more argument that supports the contention that the CIA has been involved and continues to be involved in the use of interrogation techniques that violate the absolute prohibition against torture,” special rapporteur Martin Scheinin told journalists.
Scheinin, who is the UN expert on human rights and counter-terrorism, said the behaviour of CIA officials he met on a visit to the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba this month only strengthened these suspicions.
“I draw the same conclusions from the way the CIA acted during my visit,” he said.
“They were participants in one of my meetings but they failed to answer any single question in a substantive, meaningful way, which only confirmed the suspicions that they have too much to hide.”
CIA chief Martin Hayden said on Wednesday that he knew the secret interrogation tapes existed, but not that they had been destroyed.
Following press reports, Hayden revealed last week in a letter to CIA staff that the tapes were made in 2002 and destroyed in 2005, just as the US Congress was investigating allegations of US abuse of terror suspects.
The tapes reportedly showed interrogation methods, including a technique of simulated drowning called “waterboarding,” that have been denounced as torture by human rights groups, lawmakers and one former CIA interrogator.
The US government maintains it does not use torture, but refuses to say what techniques are used on detainees by intelligence agencies.
During a Senate confirmation hearing in November, attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey refused to address the legality of bringing a prisoner to near drowning to make him talk, drawing fire from opposition Democrats and human rights groups.
“The evasion of high-ranking civilian and military officers in respect of waterboarding is indicative of waterboarding remaining a permitted interrogation method for the CIA,” Scheinin said.
He also called on the US authorities to scrap the military commissions where terror suspects are tried at Guantanamo, saying their cases should be brought before regular courts or military courts martial.
In a report to the UN Human Rights Council, the Finnish professor of international law expressed “grave concern about the situation of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay… and the lack of judicial guarantees and fair trial procedures afforded to individuals suspected of terrorist activity.”
Scheinin said the US should close the facility and acknowledge its primary responsibility in deciding what to do with the remaining detainees, many of whom cannot return to their countries of origin for fear of torture.