The United States should apologize for its treatment of Guantánamo Bay inmates, who have faced “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment,” a United Nations expert said.

Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, who conducted the first official visit by a U.N. investigator to the U.S. detention facility in Cuba, said Monday that she had identified significant improvements in the conditions of confinement at Guantánamo Bay since it was set up to house suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Despite this, she found that the facility — which now holds 30 inmates, down from nearly 800 at its height — continued to entail “near-constant surveillance, forced cell extractions, undue use of restraints, and other arbitrary, non-human rights compliant operating procedures,” she said in her report to the U.N. Human Rights Office.

“The totality of these practices and omissions have cumulative, compounding effects on detainees’ dignity and fundamental rights, and amounts to ongoing cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment,” Ní Aoláin said, adding, “Closure of the facility remains a priority.”

While Washington has long asserted that it can hold detainees indefinitely without charge under the international laws of war, the detention facility has come under intense criticism since it was set up by the Bush White House in 2002.

Images of blindfolded detainees in orange jumpsuits kneeling on the ground, their hands bound, became emblematic of the “War on Terror,” with some Islamist extremists, like the Islamic State terror group, dressing hostages in similar outfits before beheading them.

A detainee is led by military police to be interrogated by military officials at Camp X-Ray at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Feb. 6, 2002. (Lynne Sladky / AP file)

Ní Aoláin, an Irish law professor, is the U.N.’s special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. Such rapporteurs are tasked with examining, advising and publicly reporting on human rights issues and situations.

Speaking at the U.N. on Monday, Ní Aoláin said the U.S. should apologize for its treatment of detainees, according to Reuters. She concluded that the U.S. government must ensure accountability for all international law violations.

A formal U.S. response to Ní Aoláin’s findings, released by the U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Geneva, said the U.S. disagreed “with many factual and legal assertions the SR has made,” referring to Ní Aoláin, the special rapporteur. “We are committed to providing safe and humane treatment for detainees at Guantánamo, in full accordance with international and U.S. domestic law.”

“Detainees prepare meals together and live communally, receive specialized medical and psychiatric care, are given access to legal counsel and communicate regularly with family members,” the U.S. said.

The U.S. emphasized that Ní Aoláin’s conclusions “are solely her own and do not reflect the official views of the United Nations.”

“We are nonetheless carefully reviewing the SR’s recommendations and will take any appropriate actions, as warranted,” the U.S. statement added.

Noting that 10 individuals have been transferred from Guantánamo since President Joe Biden took office, the U.S. added that it had “made significant progress towards responsibly reducing the detainee population and closing the Guantánamo facility.”

The administration is further “actively working to find suitable locations for those remaining detainees eligible for transfer,” it said.

Biden has said that he wants to shut down the detention facility.

The U.S. established the Guantánamo military base in 1903. President George W. Bush opened the detention facility in 2002, and it held nearly 800 detainees at its height.

The most high-profile prisoner held there is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.

Barack Obama had pledged to shut down the prison as president, and two days after being inaugurated signed an executive order to close it by the end of the year. But while his administration significantly reduced the population, congressional resistance hampered the bid to close the facility.

After Donald Trump became president, he signed an executive order to keep the site open.

Biden began a quiet bid to close down the site soon after taking office, with a number of detainees transferred to other nations in the years since. In April, the transfer of an Algerian detainee to Algeria brought the population at the detention facility down to 30.

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