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U.S.: Amnesty International Decries 'Climate Of Torture'

Amnesty cites testimony from former prisoners at Guantanamo Bay (file photo) (AFP) A new report by Amnesty International accuses Washington of creating a "climate of torture" in its treatment of alleged terrorist suspects around the world, as well as in prisons within the United States, by failing to take effective steps to prevent torture or to punish those who have committed it.

PRAGUE, May 3, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The Amnesty report is not the first of its kind, but it looks set to be at the center of deliberations this week by the UN Committee Against Torture.

Amnesty has sent its report to the committee in Geneva. On May 5 and 8, the panel will examine U.S. compliance with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Washington strongly denies allegations of torture and is reportedly planning to send a 30-strong delegation to Geneva to again defend its record.

Long-Standing Concerns

But that won't be easy, according to Sharon Critoph, a co-author of the Amnesty report. "I think it's really no secret nowadays the torture and ill-treatment that's been going on not only in Iraq, in Afghanistan, Guantanamo [Bay, Cuba], and in secret detention centers around the world," she said.

"But also, of course, Amnesty International has long had concerns about torture and ill-treatment on the U.S. mainland itself, in U.S. detention centers," Critoph continued. "In many ways, this report brings together the concerns that actually torture by the U.S. authorities is not a new thing. It's actually been going on under domestic law for decades."
"We have been calling, we continue to call, for people higher up the chain of command to be brought to justice for abuses that have occurred in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere." -- AI's Sharon Critoph

Amnesty says examples of abuses within the U.S. domestic law-enforcement system include use of excessive force by police and degrading conditions of isolation for inmates in high-security prisons.

In its written report to the UN Committee Against Torture, the United States says it unequivocally opposes torture under any circumstances, including war or public emergency.

Detainee Testimony

Amnesty's report draws from testimony of former detainees held in U.S. detention centers around the world. These include Guantanamo Bay or Iraq's Abu Ghurayb Prison, where photos of U.S. abuse of prisoners in 2004 sparked international outrage.

Abd al-Jabbar al-Azzawi is a 50-year-old Iraqi who says he was tortured while held by U.S. forces for seven months. Detailing his ordeal in an interview on Amnesty's website, al-Azzawi said U.S. personnel at first laid him out on a board.

"Then they tied each of my hands to a winch. Then they placed me like this," he said, holding his hands out as if crucified. "They started taking photos of me. With every question they asked they would tighten the winch. Until I was stretched flat... They threatened to bring my wife and my eldest son and rape them in front of me."

The Amnesty report accuses the U.S. government of failing to respond to widespread reports of torture and ill-treatment of detainees held in U.S. military custody as part of the "war on terrorism."

It also looks into several cases where detainees held in U.S. custody in Afghanistan and Iraq allegedly died under torture.

Not Just Isolated Cases

While U.S. officials blame the abuse on soldiers who have violated rules and procedures, Amnesty's Critoph said there is evidence the ill-treatment stems from officially approved policies.

"We have been calling, we continue to call, for people higher up the chain of command to be brought to justice for abuses that have occurred in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere," she said. "As we have seen, continue to see, it's still only the lower-ranking soldiers who've been brought to book about this. But as we've said for a long time, it goes further up the chain of command."

The UN Committee Against Torture has said that it will seek U.S. answers to whether Washington operated secret detention centers abroad and whether U.S. President George W. Bush has the power to absolve anyone from criminal responsibility in torture cases.

The committee also says it wants to know more about a December 2004 memorandum from the U.S. Attorney General's office. That memo defined torture to mean "extreme" acts of cruelty. The committee wants to examine whether that policy is compatible with the global convention barring all forms of cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment.