Shut Guantanamo prison by end of 2014, U.S. group urges

By Jane Sutton

MIAMI (Reuters) - The indefinite detention of prisoners at the Guantanamo detention camp is "abhorrent and intolerable" and should end by the time U.S. troops leave Afghanistan next year, an independent U.S. task force said in a report released on Tuesday.

The Constitution Project's task force, which included two retired U.S. generals, urged President Barack Obama to declare the war over when U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan at the end of 2014.

By then, the 166 Guantanamo prisoners should be tried in civilian or military courts, repatriated or transferred to countries that would not torture them, or moved to U.S. jails, the task force's majority recommended.

The release of the report comes in the midst of the latest round of allegations of abuse at the detention camp at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba where military officials say 43 prisoners are currently on a hunger strike.

The Constitution Project is a bipartisan organization of policymakers, lawyers and judges, military officials and diplomats. Its 11-member task force spent two years examining the U.S. treatment of suspected militants detained after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Panel members interviewed former Clinton, Bush and Obama administration officials, military officers, and former prisoners, as well as searching myriad public documents.

"The caveat is we did not have access to classified information. In terms of a review of the documents that are in the public domain, I don't think anybody has ever put together anything as comprehensive," said Larry Akey, spokesman for The Constitution Project.

The task force was chaired by Asa Hutchinson, a Republican former congressman and undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security during the George W. Bush administration, and James Jones, a Democratic former congressman who served as U.S. ambassador to Mexico.

The task force concluded that "it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture" using interrogation methods that violated U.S. and international laws.

It urged the U.S. government to release as much classified information as possible in order to help understand what went wrong and how to cope better with the next crisis.

"Publicly acknowledging this grave error, however belatedly, may mitigate some of those consequences and help undo some of the damage to our reputation at home and abroad," the 577-page report said.

The encyclopedic report catalogued abusive interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and chaining prisoners in painful positions.

The task force also concluded that force-feeding hunger striking detainees is a form of abuse and should end. "But at the same time the United States has a legitimate interest in preventing detainees from starving to death," the panel said.

The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross last week expressed opposition to the force-feeding of prisoners and said he urged Obama to do more to resolve the "untenable" legal plight of inmates held there.

Many of the detainees have been held for more than a decade without charge or trial.

The hunger strike began in February to protest the seizure of personal items from detainees' cells. About a dozen are being force-fed liquid meals through tubes.

Guards swept through communal cell blocks at the camp on Saturday and moved the prisoners into one-man cells in an attempt to end the hunger strike.

Some detainees resisted with improvised weapons and in response, guards fired four capsules of small rubber pellets, the military said.

(Editing by David Adams and Jim Loney)