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U.S. under fire for secret prisons
July 28, 2006

GENEVA, Switzerland (AP) -- The U.S. should immediately shut down any secret detention facilities and grant prompt access to the Red Cross to any person detained in connection with an armed conflict, a U.N. rights panel said in a report released Friday.

"The committee is concerned by credible and uncontested information that the state party has seen fit to engage in the practice of detaining people secretly and in secret places for months and years on end," according to the 12-page U.N. Human Rights Committee report.

The committee, which held a two-day hearing last week on U.S. compliance with the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, said that such practices also violated the rights of detainees' families.

The United States "should only detain persons in places in which they can enjoy the full protection of the law," the report said. "It should also grant prompt access by the International Committee of the Red Cross to any person detained in connection with an armed conflict."

The U.S. government was expected to respond to the findings later Friday, but a comment was not immediately available.

The panel said it was also concerned that the United States, for a period of time, authorized the possible use of interrogation techniques including prolonged stress positions and isolation, sensory deprivation, hooding, exposure to cold or heat and sleep and dietary adjustments.

Those who used or approved such techniques, which have now been withdrawn, should be punished, the committee said.

The U.S. administration should also allow detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to seek review of their treatment or conditions of detention before a court, it added.

"The state party should conduct thorough and independent investigations into the allegations that persons have been sent to third countries where they have undergone torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment," the report said.

The United States should also "modify its legislation and policies to ensure that no such situation will recur, and provide appropriate remedy to the victims," it added.

In May, the top U.N. anti-torture panel -- a separate body from this committee -- recommended the closure of the Guantanamo prison and criticized alleged U.S. use of secret prisons and suspected delivery of prisoners to foreign countries for questioning.

U.S. officials maintain that Washington has always regarded the treaty as only applying to protection of human rights within the United States.

The United States was taking its turn before the committee of 18 independent experts as one of the 156 countries that have signed the treaty. Criticism by the panel brings no penalties beyond international scrutiny.

The panel also issued a series of recommendation on domestic U.S. policies in its report.

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