Fox's Angle, Wallace allowed conservatives to make misleading attacks on United Nations' Guantánamo report

››› ››› JOE BROWN

On Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, guest host and chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle left unchallenged a Heritage Foundation fellow's misleading claims about the United Nations Committee Against Torture's report on the treatment of detainees at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. On Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace allowed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to make similar misleading claims.

On the May 19 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, guest host and chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle left unchallenged a Heritage Foundation fellow's misleading claims about the United Nations Committee Against Torture's (U.N. CAT) report on the treatment of detainees at the U.S. detention facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. On the May 21 broadcast of Fox Broadcast Co.'s Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace allowed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to make similar misleading claims.

During an interview with Heritage Foundation fellow Nile Gardiner, Angle asked whether U.N. CAT had any "firsthand knowledge" of the Guantánamo Bay facility. Angle then failed to challenge Gardiner's claim that U.N. CAT was "invited on several occasions by the Pentagon and State Department to visit Guantánamo," but "turned all those requests down." Similarly, Wallace allowed Rice to claim that "it would have been helpful if the rapporteur for that report [by U.N. CAT] had actually gone to Guantánamo" so that there could have "been full assessment" of the facility.

In fact, U.N. CAT does not conduct on-site investigations of detention facilities. As The Boston Globe reported May 20, "[r]ather than conducting onsite investigations, the committee examines legal issues and extensive materials submitted by signatories to the [U.N. Convention Against Torture]." In contrast, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) does conduct on-site inspections. According to UNCHR's February 2006 report on the Guantánamo Bay facility, UNHCR requested permission to visit Guantánamo in June 2004. The report noted, however, that although the U.S. government extended an invitation for a visit, it "stipulated that 'the visit will not include private interviews or visits with detainees.' " The report explained that although UNHCR initially accepted the invitation, it later decided to cancel the visit because its interviews with detainees would have been restricted.

In its own report on Guantánamo Bay, U.N. CAT reiterated the UNCHR request for a visit to Guantánamo Bay, complete with unfettered access to detainees.

Additionally, Angle failed to challenge Gardiner's dubious claim that "[t]here are no credible reports that there has been systematic torture of detainees." In fact, in December 2002, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld approved "counter-resistance techniques" for use by interrogators at Guantánamo Bay, including "use of stress positions (like standing) for a maximum of four hours," "using detainees' individual phobias (such as fear of dogs) to induce stress," and use of an "isolation facility for up to 30 days." In approving the techniques, Rumsfeld questioned the limitation of stress positions to four hours, writing on the approval: "However, I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?" Human Rights Watch (HRW) has stated that "these methods ... likely violate the Geneva Conventions' prohibition on torture or inhuman treatment of prisoners," that the United Nations made clear in a 2004 report that "the techniques also violate the prohibitions of the Convention against Torture," and that the United States has "denounced as torture these same techniques when practiced by other countries." HRW also noted that the Army Field Manual declares that "forcing an individual to stand ... for prolonged periods of time" is an example of torture. Rumsfeld withdrew authorization for these techniques in January 2003. However, according to HRW, Rumsfeld issued a "final interrogation policy" on April 16, 2003. "[W]hile more restrictive than the December 2002 rules, [the policy] still allowed techniques that go beyond what the Geneva Conventions permitted for POWs," HRW wrote.

Further, Wallace left unchallenged Rice's claim that "people who go to Guantánamo see quite a different picture" than that painted by the U.N. CAT report. Contrary to Rice's suggestion, there are numerous reports of detainee abuse at Guantánamo from credible sources who have visited the facility. As Media Matters noted, FBI documents released to the American Civil Liberties Union graphically detail numerous cases of abuse -- including the use of "torture techniques" by interrogators. A memo obtained by The New York Times -- summarizing a confidential report by the International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC] -- also described the use of "temperature extremes, persistent noise, and 'some beatings' " on Guantánamo prisoners.

In addition, Angle failed to challenge Gardiner's highly misleading suggestion that "[i]n contrast" to U.N. CAT, which did not visit Guantánamo "and yet issued an amazing report with all sorts of mythical allegations," "[t]he International Committee of the Red Cross has untrammeled access" to Guantánamo detainees, and has not criticized their treatment.

While the ICRC has access to Guantánamo detainees, ICRC reports are generally kept confidential. The reports are made available only to the "detaining authority" -- in this case, the U.S. government -- except when at least one of three criteria is met: "after repeated approaches and requests, the prisoners' treatment or conditions hasn't improved;" "the ICRC's usual procedures for visits are not respected;" or "a detaining authority publishes just part of a visit report." Barring such circumstances, abuses observed by the ICRC at Guantánamo would be reported solely to the U.S. government.

From the May 19 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

ANGLE: All right, let's talk about the substance to this. This group was offered the opportunity to visit Guantánamo Bay. In their report, they come out and say that they are -- they cite what they call reliable reports of abuse of detainees. Did they go to Guantánamo Bay? Is this sort of firsthand knowledge?

GARDINER: Not at all. In fact, they were invited on several occasions by the Pentagon and the State Department to visit Guantánamo. They turned all of those requests down. In contrast, hundreds and hundreds of journalists have visited Guantánamo Bay. Over a hundred congressmen and senators have been there. This is a facility that has received an unprecedented amount of international inspection. The International Committee of the Red Cross has untrammeled access to the detainees there. So, incredibly, the United Nations decided not to even inspect this facility and yet issued an amazing report with all sorts of mythical allegations.

ANGLE: Are there any credible reports that torture has taken place there?

GARDINER: No. There are no credible reports that there has been systematic torture of detainees. There has been some controversy, perhaps, over one or two isolated incidents. But we are looking at a facility which has received a tremendous amount of international scrutiny, where the guards have received a great deal of very specialized training. And I think the United States does go a very long way towards treating extremely dangerous suspects in a very humane way.

From the May 21 edition of Fox Broadcast Co.'s Fox News Sunday:

WALLACE: The United Nations Committee Against Torture this week criticized the U.S. handling of U.S. terrorism detainees and called for shutting down the prison at Guantánamo Bay. Last week, the attorney general of Britain, perhaps our strongest ally in the war on terror, also called for shutting down Guantánamo, saying that it is, quote, "unacceptable." Will the U.S. close down Guantánamo?

RICE: Well, first of all, it would have been helpful if the rapporteur for that report had actually gone to Guantánamo. It's a little difficult to do this by remote control. And we did have a sense that this report, as John Bellinger, who is our legal counsel, said, might have been written before we even were given a real opportunity to respond. So yes --

WALLACE: But this was 10 independent human-rights experts.

RICE: Yes, but it would have been helpful if there had been full assessment, because people who go to Guantánamo see quite a different picture.

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