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World: Rights Group Says U.S. 'Policy' Of Abuse Undermines Global Efforts

Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth (Courtesy Photo) A prominent human rights group has accused the U.S. government of deliberately using torture as a weapon in fighting terrorism. Human Rights Watch says in its annual report that a policy of abusive interrogation is eroding rights protection and undermining the U.S.-led fight against terrorism. The group also points to a deterioration of rights in Russia and throughout Central Asia and faults Europe for contributing to a "void" in human rights promotion.

New York, 18 January 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The Human Rights Watch (HRW) report marks five straight years of intensifying criticism of U.S. practices in its war on terrorism.

In its latest report, released today, the group cites mounting reports of abuses of U.S. detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and secret detention facilities.

It says the Bush administration's defense of the use of inhumane treatment against terror suspects supports evidence that mistreatment of prisoners is part of the country's counterterrorism strategy.

Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth said this ultimately undermines counterterrorism efforts.

"This U.S. disregard for human rights in the name of fighting terrorism has been extraordinarily counterproductive even for the effort to defeat terrorism," Roth said. "It has lost the United States the moral high ground. It has bred resentment, which has been a boon for terrorist recruiters."

Washington's Response

White House spokesman Scott McClellan today rejected the report. He said the United States does more than any other country to promote human rights.

In Brussels in December, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice repeated a pledge that U.S. personnel are not allowed to use torture against anyone, anywhere in the world.

"The United States is quite clear and quite determined to carry out the president's policy, which he articulated clearly, that the United States does not engage in torture, doesn't condone it, doesn't expect its employees to engage in it," Rice said. "Will there be abuses of policy? That is entirely possible. Just because you are a democracy, it doesn't mean you are perfect."

HRW Chides Europe

The Human Rights Watch report was also critical of European states for a failure to defend rights.

Roth said the European Union continued to subordinate human rights in its relationships with rights-abusing countries deemed useful in the fight against terrorism, such as Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia.

"The result of this global leadership void has been that in part it has been filled by governments like China and Russia, who are exercising their new economic clout without much regard, if any, to the human rights practices of their partner," Roth said.

The group cited "deepening authoritarianism" under Russian President Vladimir Putin. It targeted Uzbekistan for what it called a "disastrous" human rights record, which it said worsened in 2005 after a government crackdown in the eastern city of Andijon in mid-May.

...And Rights Violators

Other countries accused of flouting human rights include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Serbia and Montenegro, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Ukraine.

The report highlights some bright spots, including Kyrgyzstan for withstanding intense pressure from Uzbekistan to rescue some 440 refugees from the crackdown in Andijon. In respect to Andijon, the group offered mixed praise for the EU.

"Europe did suspend its partnership and cooperation agreement with respect to Uzbekistan after the Andijon massacre -- a very important step, but also first time this had ever done on human rights grounds, which is an exception that in a sense proves the rule of general EU inaction when it comes to using these kind of agreements and their traditional human rights clause as a way of promoting human rights," it says.

Since the United States mounted its war on terrorism in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks, it has stressed that treatment of terrorists and terrorist suspects requires new principles for international law. For example, the U.S. government classifies detainees as "enemy combatants," which provides fewer legal protections than prisoner-of-war status under the Geneva Conventions.

(To view the Human Rights Watch report, see