No Change in US Torture Policy Amnesty
United States has failed to meaningfully change its policies on
the treatment of prisoners, opening the door to repeats of abuses
like those at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and making an independent
probe into torture by the US military essential, says a leading
human rights group.
a 200-page report released Wednesday, London-based Amnesty International
(AI) stressed that without such an investigation and the clear,
unequivocal rejection of torture and ill-treatment by top US officials,
"the conditions remain for further abuses to occur."
months after CBS-TV's 60 Minutes broadcast photos of US soldiers
abusing Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, AI
welcomed a number of Pentagon-sponsored probes into the torture
and other abuse there but warned they alone are not sufficient.
questions remain unanswered, responsible individuals are beyond
the scope of investigation, policies that facilitate torture remain
in place, and prisoners continue to be held in secret detention,"
said William Schulz, executive director of the US section of Amnesty
failure to substantially change policy and practice after the scandal
of Abu Ghraib leaves the US government completely lacking in credibility
when it asserts its opposition to torture," he added in a statement.
report also calls on US President George W Bush to make public and
rescind any measures or directives authorized by him or any other
official that could be interpreted as authorizing "disappearances,"
torture, or other inhuman treatment.
was released amid almost daily revelations about how decades-old
US policies regarding the treatment of prisoners-of-war were either
circumvented or ignored by small groups of political appointees
in the Bush administration, who argued that those policies were
obsolete in waging what one White House memorandum called a "new
kind of war."
articles appearing over the past three days in the New York Times
have described how top lawyers in the Pentagon, Vice President Dick
Cheney's office, the Justice Department and the White House kept
Bush's own national security adviser, the State Department and career
military attorneys in the dark about their plans for "military
commissions" that deprived suspects in the "war on terrorism"
of basic rights under domestic and international law.
the same time, the 'Washington Post' reported that the Central Intelligence
Agency (CIA), with the Pentagon's cooperation, had secretly transferred
dozens of non-Iraqi prisoners out of Iraq since the March 2003 invasion,
under an opinion by political appointees in the Justice Department's
Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) in direct defiance of the 1949 Geneva
Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war.
revelations come on top of disclosures after the Abu Ghraib scandal
last April of legal memoranda prepared by political appointees that
appeared to justify the use of torture and ill-treatment against
detainees, practices that were explicitly prohibited by US Armed
Forces field manuals over the past several decades.
of these disclosures have contributed to calls by AI and other groups,
including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Human Rights First, dating
back to last April and May, for a comprehensive independent probe
of torture and abuses. In a resolution passed last summer, the American
Bar Association (ABA) also urged such a move.
now, the Bush administration ignored these calls, arguing that the
Pentagon's own efforts to investigate and prosecute abuses were
adequate for dealing with the issue.
this month, for example, the US Army's Criminal Investigation Division
recommended that 28 soldiers be charged in connection with the beating
deaths of two prisoners at a detention facility in Afghanistan in
December 2002, while some seven military police are being prosecuted
or have plead guilty to charges arising from the Abu Ghraib abuses.
Thursday one Army reservist, the highest-ranking soldier charged
after the Abu Ghraib scandal exploded in the international media,
was sentenced to eight years in prison for abuse.
new report, ''Human Dignity Denied: Torture and Accountability in
the 'War on Terror'," documents what it calls a pattern of
human rights violations running from Afghanistan to Abu Ghraib via
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (where prisoners in the "war on terror"
were taken to a specially-constructed detention facility that the
Bush administration maintained was outside the jurisdiction of US
law) and "secret" overseas detention facilities about
which the administration has said virtually nothing.
report stressed that no senior US officials has yet been held accountable.
the administration's claims that prosecuting the "war on terror"
after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon
required "new thinking," the report finds the administration's
ideas about how to fight the war fit a "historically familiar
pattern of violating human rights in the name of national security."
argues that decisions linked to torture start at the very top. Secretary
of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, for example, explicitly authorized a
number of abuses including stripping, isolation, hooding,
stress positions, sensory deprivation, the use of dogs in interrogations
and secret detentions, which amount to serious human rights violations
and, in some cases, torture.
denial of habeas corpus, the use of incommunicado and secret detention
in some cases amounting to 'disappearance' and the
sanctioning of harsh interrogation techniques are classic but flawed
responses," Amnesty said.
lowering safeguards, demonizing detainees, and displaying a disregard
for its international legal obligations, the administration at best
sowed confusion among interrogators and at worst gave the green
light to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."
said the sheer number of abuses in Afghanistan and Iraq that have
come to light through media leaks or official Pentagon investigations
has "punctured the administration's assertions that torture
and ill-treatment were restricted to Abu Ghraib and a few aberrant
independent commission of credible experts should be formed, and
call on the advice of international groups and agencies that specialize
in such investigations, including the United Nations Special Rapporteur
on Torture, the report recommends.
should be empowered to investigate all levels and agencies of the
US government, including the CIA, whose operations including
secret transfers of detainees to other countries have so
far largely escaped scrutiny.
commission should also include within its scope recommendations
for preventing future torture and ill treatment of detainees in
US custody, beginning with a clear requirement that the highest
administration officials must make clear their absolute and unequivocal
opposition to torture and abuse under any circumstances.
a move is indispensable in light of the memoranda prepared by the
administration to justify abuses. "What these documents show
is a two-faced strategy to torture," according to AI. "It
has been a case of proclaim your opposition to torture in public,
while in private discuss how your president can order torture and
how government agents can escape criminal liability for torture."
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service