The group's 2004 report criticizes the United States and its allies, along with militant groups worldwide, for what it calls "the most sustained attack on human rights and international humanitarian law in the last 50 years."
Over the past four years, 177 armed groups have operated in 65 countries, which make-up one-third of the world's population, the report said. Fifty-five percent of these groups killed civilians and 20 percent committed rape and other sexual violence. One-third of governments responded to this violence by killing civilians; 36 percent by torturing and ill-treating people; and 28 percent through sexual violence, including rape, the report added. The report comes down heavily on both governments and militant groups. It details torture and ill-treatment in 132 countries, political killings in 47, and detainments without trial or charge in 58 nations. It also detailed killings and attacks by militants in 34 countries, torture or ill treatment in 18, and hostage-takings and abductions in 16.
"This is to say that the war on terror has evolved into a global street brawl with governments and armed groups duking it out, and innocent civilians suffering severely," William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, at a news conference in Washington.
Amnesty chastised the Bush administration's responses to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York and Washington that killed nearly 3,000 people. Schulz said the U.S. response to the attacks and the subsequent war on Iraq had exacerbated the security situation around the world. He added the alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, the killing of civilians in Iraq, the indefinite detention of terrorism-related detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the USA PATRIOT Act showed the Bush administration was trying to pursue security at all costs.
"But to President Bush's claim that the war on terror is making the world safer, we say that he is sadly mistaken," Schulz said. "The administration's war on terror is bankrupt of vision and bereft of principle, and it has made the world a far more dangerous place."
Schulz said some of the U.S. actions in Iraq may, in fact, constitute war crimes, and called for a full investigation and an appropriate conclusion.
"Amnesty certainly believes that if some of these allegations are substantiated in an appropriate process, that they may very well constitute war crimes," he said. "Amnesty International is not itself an adjudicator of those kinds of decisions, but we certainly believe that there is the profound potential for that."
The report said its own research had shown that since the U.S.-led war on terror began, terror-related violence had increased worldwide. The number of armed groups rose by 17 percent from the two-year period before Sept. 11, 2001, to the two years after it, and the number of militant groups had increased from 132 to 154 in the same period.
"It is clear that the way in which the war on terror is being conducted today is not making us safer," Schulz said. "To put it as simply as possible, it is in fact a failure. It is making the world more dangerous."
Jessica Stern, a lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, said the U.S.-led responses to militancy had caused alienation in much of the Islamic world, causing militants to feed of the anti-Western sentiments and garner more support.
"We must always weigh the consequences in that context of our actions," she said. "If we humiliate people in the Islamic world, we are assisting the terrorists."
Stern said the problem of terrorism was one with which the world would have to live.
"The threat of terrorism is likely to continue to rise," she said at the news conference. " There are no short-term remedies."
The U.S. State Department downplayed the criticisms by the human rights group.
"We work with Amnesty International, we listen to Amnesty International. We have close ties. We talk to them all the time, share information," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "That being said, we don't necessarily agree with their views."
He called Amnesty's allegation that Bush's war on terror was "bankrupt of vision and bereft of principle" a "sound bite, but a sound bite we would disagree with."
"This president has enunciated a very clear vision of defending civilization, defending society, defending decency from people who want only destruction," he said.
Boucher denied that the war on terror had lessened the U.S. concern for human rights around the world, especially among its allies, some of who have been accused of harsh crackdowns on dissidents veiled as a fight against terrorism.
"We have raised human rights cases and issues with leaders of governments, including governments that are very close to us in the war on terrorism," he said. "We have made clear that we believe that constructing a healthy society where rights are respected, where people enjoy freedoms and hope and opportunity is an essential part of fighting the war on terrorism. So for those two basic reasons I would reject the overall argument."
Boucher, however, added that the State Department took the Amnesty report seriously.
"We look at what they say," he said. "We look at specific cases they raise and make sure that we are doing what we can for the people who might be hurt by harmful practices around the world."