WASHINGTON - The 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 U.S. military essential, says a leading human rights group.
In 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 U.S. officials, "the conditions remain for further
abuses to occur."
Six months after CBS TV's 60 Minutes broadcast photos of U.S. 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.
"Many 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 U.S. section of Amnesty (AIUSA).
"The failure to substantially change policy and practice after the scandal
of Abu Ghraib leaves the U.S. government completely lacking in credibility when
it asserts its opposition to torture," he added in a statement.
The report also calls on U.S. 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
It was released amid almost daily revelations about how decades-old U.S. 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."
Investigative 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.
At the same time, the Washington
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.
The 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 U.S. Armed Forces field manuals over the past several
All 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.
Until now, the Bush administration ignored these calls, arguing that the Pentagon's
own efforts to investigate and prosecute abuses were adequate for dealing with
Earlier this month, for example, the U.S. 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.
Last 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.
Amnesty's 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 U.S. law) and "secret" overseas detention facilities about which
the administration has said virtually nothing.
The report stressed that no senior U.S. officials has yet been held accountable.
Noting 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."
It 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.
"The 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.
"By 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."
It 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 soldiers."
An 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.
It should be empowered to investigate all levels and agencies of the U.S. government,
including the CIA, whose operations including secret transfers of detainees
to other countries have so far largely escaped scrutiny.
Any commission should also include within its scope recommendations for preventing
future torture and ill treatment of detainees in U.S. 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.
Such 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."
(Inter Press Service)