WASHINGTON – The Red Cross is free to visit detainees at Guanatano Bay but the United States will not permit visits by U.N. human rights experts "just to avoid a row," the State Department said Friday.
"Our purpose is to run a facility in a proper way and act according to our rules and our laws as part of an international armed conflict," spokesman Adam Ereli said.
That, he said, "is what we are engaged in and which is why Guantanamo exists."
The Red Cross, however, can visit and talk to detainees. "That's right and proper, and that's how we operate Guantanamo," he said.
U.N. human rights experts said Friday in Geneva, Switzerland, they would not accept an Oct. 27 invitation from the Pentagon to visit the military priosn because U.S. officials barred them from talking privately with detained terror suspects.
As a result, the experts said, it would be impossible for them to fairly assess conditions at the facility.
The United States holds about 500 prisoners at its Guantanamo base in Cuba. The inmates are accused of links to the Al Qaeda terror network or Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime. Most are held without charge or trial under the classification of enemy combatants, which the United States says does not accord them the same rights as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.
"Frankly," Ereli said, "we believe we have been very forthcoming" with the human rights experts. "We have offered them the same access to this facility as we offer elected representativces of the American people."
Ereli said members of Congress have visited Guantanamo and the human rights experts would have the same treatment.
"We think that's more than good enough," Ereli said. "And it's unfortunate if they don't think so."