Global Policy Forum

US Tells UN It Remains Opposed to Torture, Abuse


By Colum Lynch

Washington Post
May 7, 2005

The Bush administration reaffirmed its commitment to prohibiting torture in a report Friday to the U.N. Committee on Torture, citing the prosecution and punishment of U.S. troops accused of abusing detainees at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.

But the 95-page report, which focused primarily on police abuses within the United States, avoided any discussion of the CIA's role in transferring secret "ghost detainees" to foreign countries for interrogation. It also sidestepped the question of whether U.S. authorities are obligated to bar the mistreatment of detainees held outside the United States.

A lengthy annex cited 190 cases of abuses of detainees by U.S. personnel in Iraq, and other abuses in penal facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Afghanistan. But it did not fault senior U.S. officials for implementing detention policies that critics allege have led to abuses, insisting there is no evidence that "any government policy directed, encouraged or condoned these abuses." "The U.S. government has acted swiftly to investigate and take action to address these abuses," the report said.

The report's release came a day after the first senior U.S. officer, Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski, was demoted. But three other senior officers, including the former senior U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, were cleared of wrongdoing in the abuse scandal.

Human rights advocates said they were relieved that the Bush administration had not retreated from its commitment to the assertion in the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment that torture is never justified.

But they expressed concern that senior U.S. officers and others involved in devising U.S. policy on the treatment of detainees have not been held to account for abuse. They also voiced concern that Friday's report did not address ghost detainees, whose arrests have been undocumented and who have been denied access to the Red Cross, or oblige U.S. intelligence officials to stop mistreatment of detainees abroad. "They have avoided most of the issues on which they would have been getting into a big argument with the rest of the world," said Tom Malinowski, Human Rights Watch's Washington advocacy director.

"Attorney General Alberto Gonzales argued that the treaty doesn't prohibit nonmilitary personnel acting abroad from treating people inhumanely," added Elisa Massimino, Washington director of Human Rights First. "This attempt to create a loophole in the law against cruel and degrading treatment is what led to abuses in the first place. Failure to address this in the report leaves the door open to abuses in the future."

Michael G. Kozak, the acting U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, said the United States is committed to prosecuting people engaged in abuses overseas "whether we're obligated or not" by the torture convention. He said Friday's report is a "nice, flat, clear statement that torture and other forms of abuse are absolutely verboten under U.S. law and policy for all agencies, including the intelligence agencies."

The United States submitted its report in Geneva to the U.N. Committee on Torture, which monitors compliance with the Convention Against Torture. The treaty, ratified by the United States in 1994, requires governments to report to the committee every four years. The United States submitted its last report in 1999, making Friday's submission its first since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. Kozak said the torture committee will review the report before asking the United States to respond to questions in November or next spring.

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