Amnesty condemns U.S. on human rights

By HANNAH K. STRANGE, UPI U.K. Correspondent  |  May 23, 2006 at 2:47 PM
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LONDON, May 23 (UPI) -- Human rights group Amnesty International Tuesday accused the United States of breaking international law in its treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and detention facilities elsewhere in the world.

Launching the organization's annual report on the state of global human rights in London, Amnesty Secretary-General Irene Khan warned that powerful governments such as the United States and Britain were playing "a dangerous game" with human rights in the struggle against terrorism.

"Duplicity and double speak have become the hallmark of the war on terror," she said, claiming that many Western powers were quick to condemn human rights abuses by other nations but had no qualms about mistreating foreign nationals in their custody in the name of security.

In a sometimes scathing assessment of the United States' human rights record, Khan urged President George W. Bush to try or release the 480 detainees still held at Guantanamo Bay and to disclose the names and locations of all other prisoners in U.S. custody. His credibility would be held hostage as long as this "shameful symbol" remained, she added. Her call echoes recent demands by the United Nations and prominent politicians such as British Attorney-General Peter Goldsmith.

"Guantanamo is a powder keg waiting to explode," she said, arguing that inmates' recent hunger strikes and an attack on guards who were trying to prevent a detainee committing suicide signaled the deteriorating situation. Reports from detainees' family members and legal representatives suggested that their conditions were "progressively getting worse," partly because of the lack of any prospect of legal recourse, she said. Amnesty International was calling for an independent assessment of detainees' physical and mental health, she said, and had a standing request with the U.S. government for access to the camp.

However the camp was "only the tip of the iceberg," Khan said, claiming that thousands of prisoners were being held by the United States at secret facilities around the world.

Washington has never denied the existence of these so-called "black sites," she noted: when a U.S. delegate was asked by the United Nations' Committee Against Torture whether such facilities were in operation, he refused to comment.

Khan claimed there was evidence of widespread torture and abuse in U.S. detention facilities and illegal renditions conducted by the CIA.

"The United States outsources torture to countries like Morocco, Egypt, Jordan and Syria," she alleged, noting that Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif had openly admitted receiving over 60 renditions from U.S. agents.

In the case of rendition, Europe was the United States' "partner in crime," she said, noting that at least seven countries had been implicated in the rendition of over 40 individuals from Europe to secret facilities elsewhere.

This complicity has been acknowledged by Washington itself; a senior State Department official told United Press Interntational in February that renditions had been conducted with the full knowledge and aid of European governments.

Khan commended the United States for introducing a law prohibiting torture, but noted that it included a clause allowing the executive to bypass the legislation in times of national emergency. This was deeply unsatisfactory, she said, arguing that "nothing can justify torture or ill-treatment."

Claims that such methods were necessitated by the terror threat were "misleading, dangerous and simply wrong," she continued. "We cannot extinguish fire with petrol."

In undermining the fundamental principles of human rights, the United States was damaging its own ability to champion such rights abroad, Khan argued. The war on terror had given "a new lease of life" to repressive regimes around the world, she continued, which now indulged in torture and ill-treatment with far more confidence and openness than they did in the past.

Khan denied that Amnesty was engaging in political targeting of the United States, pointing out that the report assessed 150 countries, and was highly critical of many, including several EU countries, Russia, China, Iran, Zimbabwe, Burma and North Korea.

However as the world's only superpower, the actions of the United States had "huge implications" internationally, she said.

She acknowledged that not all human rights were absolute and could sometimes be curtailed in states of emergency, but argued that the right not to be tortured or mistreated was one principle which was inviolable.

The U.S. administration has said it would like to close Guantanamo but that the release of detainees is being stymied by concerns that they may be tortured by their own governments on return.

In an interview with UPI, Rob Freer of Amnesty's North America program commended Washington for acknowledging its responsibility not to send detainees back to face torture or mistreatment, but said that having created Guantanamo in the first place, it was the United States' responsibility to find a solution to whatever problems might arise.

Washington should assess each case individually and if it believed a detainee was in danger of being tortured on return to their country, should negotiate deportations to other countries, he said. It also had to trust in its own judiciary to try detainees, he added.

Freer said Amnesty was concerned at the delay in releasing some of the detainees, even those who had been judged not to be enemy combatants such as a number of Chinese Uighurs, who were cleared for release over a year ago but were still in custody. "There must be a solution that can be found faster than that," he said.

He questioned the United States' definition of torture, which he said was far narrower than that of most of the international community and allowed agents to "get away with" cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, which was also prohibited under international law.

"They've authorized such things as stripping, the use of dogs to induce fear, stress positions and so on, these would be prohibited under international law but the United States appears to be taking the position that they are legitimate, so we immediately run into a problem of definition."

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