A leading human rights organization has accused the Bush administration of using torture and inhuman treatment of detainees as a deliberate strategy in its war on terror. Human Rights Watch charges in a new report that the treatment of detainees has undermined the United States' ability to champion human rights around the world.
Human Rights Watch says policy decisions from senior Bush administration officials have created an atmosphere tolerant of abuse. The organization's executive director, Kenneth Roth, says it became clear this past year that torture and inhuman treatment are not simply the unintentional byproducts of these policy decisions.
"It's not simply a matter of neglect, or command failure," he said. "Rather the use of torture and inhuman treatment was the Bush policy. It was reflective of a deliberate decision by the most senior Bush administration officials to fight terrorism without regard to one of the most basic prohibitions there is in international human rights law."
The White House dismissed the report's criticism, saying the United States does not torture terror suspects. Spokesman Scott McClellan said Human Rights Watch's findings appear to be based on a political agenda rather than facts, and that the United States does more than any other country to advance human rights and freedom.
"I think when a group like this makes some of these assertions, it diminishes the effectiveness of that organization," he said. "The United States is a leader when it comes to advancing freedom and promoting democracy, and we will continue to be. We are the leader."
Human Rights Watch based much of its criticism of the Bush administration on public comments from senior US officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, who argued for excluding the Central Intelligence Agency from legislation outlawing "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" of detainees. The rights group is calling for the administration to appoint a special prosecutor to examine these alleged abuses, and for Congress to establish an independent, bipartisan panel to investigate.
More than 70 countries were surveyed in the report. U.S. allies Britain and Canada also came in for criticism in their efforts to combat terrorism. Britain came under fire for trying to send terror suspects to governments likely to torture, while Canada was criticized for trying to dilute a new treaty outlawing enforced disappearances.
Beyond the global war on terror, the European Union's lack of action in Africa was cited as a negative development.
"The EU largely ignored human rights abuses by its friends in Africa," said Kenneth Roth. "It was very good about speaking out against the pariah Zimbabwe. But when it came to Angola, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, there was little if anything said."
Elsewhere, the government of Uzbekistan was criticized for the killing of hundreds of demonstrators last May in Andijan, and Sudan's government was cited for atrocities in the Darfur region.
Burma, North Korea, Turkmenistan and the Chinese regions of Tibet and Xinjiang were cited as areas of "severe repression." While "persistent atrocities" were reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Chechnya.
On a positive note, India was highlighted for suspending most military aid to neighboring Nepal and for playing a "constructive role in opposing" the Nepalese king's seizure of absolute power last year. Also, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations won praise for forcing Burma to give up its chairmanship this year because of its poor human rights record.