Rights group condemns U.S. actions

Amnesty International says U.S. war on terror hurts international law

May 27, 2004|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON - In a strongly worded condemnation of U.S. policy, the human rights group Amnesty International said yesterday that the war in Iraq and the fight against terrorism have contributed to the most sustained attack on human rights and international humanitarian law in 50 years.

The organization did not spare armed groups such as al-Qaida from its criticism and said attacks on civilians and institutions such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations represented a "significant new threat to international justice" that it condemned "in the strongest possible terms."

But its "Amnesty International Report 2004" said practices such as holding prisoners without charge or trial and physical abuses of Iraqis that have been reported over the past month have marginalized or destroyed basic principles of international law.

"Governments are losing their moral compass, sacrificing the global values of human rights in a blind pursuit of security," said the group's executive director, Irene Khan. "This failure of leadership is a dangerous concession to armed groups."

Administration answers

White House spokesman Scott McClellan replied, "The United States of America is a leading advocate of protecting human rights, and we will continue to be."

Khan acknowledged in a statement that governments have a right to protect their citizens but said policies enacted by the Bush administration have been counterproductive because they encourage other groups to violate human rights and they divert attention from violations that have long existed in places such as Chechnya, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Nepal.

"The global security agenda promoted by the U.S. Administration is bankrupt of vision and bereft of principle," Khan said. "Violating rights at home, turning a blind eye to abuses abroad and using pre-emptive military force where and when it chooses has damaged justice and freedom, and made the world a more dangerous place."

The 339-page report notes the abuses of prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, which have been acknowledged by the United States, and cites violations of the human rights of prisoners held at Camp Copper at Baghdad International Airport, at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and in Afghanistan.

The U.S. military is investigating abuse of prisoners in Afghanistan and in Iraq but has denied any mistreatment at Guantanamo. The military has released prisoners from Guantanamo after holding them more than a year without charges, and it acknowledges mistakenly holding scores of Iraqis for months before their release.

Rights endangered

Beyond the cases of possible homicide and physical abuse, Khan said that by holding prisoners without charge, trial, access to lawyers or protections of the Geneva Conventions, "governments endanger the rights of those who are innocent, and put us all at risk."

The U.S. State Department was forced to delay a report earlier this month on what the United States was doing around the world to promote human rights after the Abu Ghraib scandal began dominating the news.

It was finally released May 17. The report cited other countries for many of the same types of abuses that Amnesty International criticized the United States for in yesterday's report.

The organization said "excessive use of force by coalition forces" was responsible for the deaths of many civilians in Iraq, both during the initial fighting and since President Bush declared an end to major combat operations.

It offered several examples, including the case of a 12-year-old boy who was carrying bedding to the roof of his home when he was shot by U.S. forces. Neighbors who tried to rush him to a hospital were turned back, the report said, and the boy died at home. The report said the military wrongly claimed the boy was carrying a weapon.

The report said the United States, Britain and their coalition partners should be held responsible for not adequately planning for their role in Iraq since becoming an occupying force.

"Coalition forces failed to live up fully to their responsibilities under international humanitarian law as occupying power, including their duty to restore and maintain public order and safety, and to provide food, medical care and relief assistance," the report said.

The Bush administration maintains that the prisoners at Guantanamo, thought to number about 600 from more than 40 countries, are "enemy combatants" who have no rights under the Geneva Conventions and can be held indefinitely without charge.

Britain, the main coalition partner of the United States in Iraq, was also harshly criticized.

The Amnesty International report detailed specific accusations of British troops torturing nine men arrested at a hotel in Basra, where weapons had reportedly been found. One of the men died in custody after suffering renal failure and severe bruising, the report said.

The British Foreign Office said reports of abuse by forces have been investigated or are under investigation and those found to be guilty will be punished.

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