Sergio Vieira de Mello specifically condemned a U.S. court ruling
Tuesday that suspected Taliban and al-Qaida fighters held at the
American naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have no rights to such
The court said the prisoners are aliens being held outside U.S.
sovereign territory and, therefore, are not entitled to such
constitutional rights as being charged with a crime or having access
to a lawyer.
"I cannot accept that there's a legal black hole in Guantanamo,"
Vieira de Mello said. "How can we even conceive that on this planet
there exist square kilometers of land where no law applies?"
Attorneys representing the families of some prisoners argued that
the military base is under the control of the United States and the
detainees have legal rights under international law.
They claim U.S. authorities unfairly are holding the men
indefinitely without charge, leaving them in legal limbo.
The United States also has been criticized by human rights groups
and several governments for refusing to grant the Guantanamo
detainees prisoner of war status, even though most were captured in
a military campaign. U.S. authorities instead label the prisoners
"You can roll out as many legal quibbles as you want," Vieira de
"If you control a territory, if you have a military force on this
territory, if you have a detention center on this territory, if you
hold around 650 people on this territory, then you can't say that
the law of the country that controls this territory doesn't apply."
The Guantanamo base is a 45-square mile area in eastern Cuba.
U.S. troops seized Guantanamo Bay in 1898 during the
Spanish-American War. Since a 1903 agreement, the United States has
leased the land from Cuba for 2,000 gold coins a year, now valued at
$4,085. The U.S. government still pays, but the government of Cuban
President Fidel Castro (news
sites) opposes the U.S. presence and refuses to cash the checks.
Vieira de Mello previously has urged U.S. authorities to bring
the prisoners to trial or hand them over to justice authorities in
their home countries. He discussed the issue during a meeting last
week with President Bush (news
sites) in Washington.
"The United States should be an example," Vieira de Mello said
Thursday. "I told the president that we turn to the United States as
a model, a model of democracy that invented the expression 'civil
"I recognize fully that terrorism is an insidious threat," Vieira
de Mello said.
Governments have a duty to fight terrorism but must ensure they
protect human rights during the battle, he said.