Latest News

U.S. accuses dozens of nations of mistreating prisoners

WASHINGTON—The State Department's annual report on human rights Monday criticized dozens of governments for mistreating prisoners and using practices that U.S. forces also have used in the war on terror.

The report also condemned the routine use of torture in three countries—Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia—where U.S. forces have transferred detainees or arranged for their custody.

The report surveys human, political and religious rights practices last year in 196 nations.

The survey found progress with relatively free elections in Afghanistan and the Ukraine. China, where challenges to the ruling Communist Party are banned, was cited for detentions of writers, religious activists and dissidents. Latin America was criticized for dangerous corruption.

Torture is still widely used throughout the Middle East, including in nations such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other U.S. allies, the report said.

The State Department criticized Pakistan for use of "prolonged isolation," "denial of sleep" and "painful shackling;" Egypt for "stripping and blindfolding" and dousing detainees with cold water; and Syria for forcing prisoners to stand for long periods of time.

Those tactics were also used and approved by the Pentagon in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where more than 500 detainees are held.

Some of those "stress and duress" methods, including forced nudity and shackling, were approved by top defense officials in late 2002, and some were later rescinded.

But two investigations of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal last year in Iraq found there was confusion about what methods were approved, and several coercive tactics continued to be used.

According to several FBI agents, detainees in Guantanamo were left shackled to the floor, some in a fetal position, for more than 24 hours. Others were subjected to religious humiliation and sensory deprivation.

The State Department's human rights report is required by Congress. Embassy personnel around the world contribute to it, covering every country in the United Nations except the United States.

"The reason we don't do a report on ourselves is the same reason you don't write investigative reports about you own finances—it wouldn't have any credibility," said State Department human rights official Michael Kozak. "We're not against being scrutinized, and we are, by many other organizations.

"No country has a perfect human rights record, and certainly not the United States," said Kozak, the acting assistant secretary of the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

"We have problems, too, in the human rights area. What we'd like to see other countries do is what we hope we're doing all the time, which is to take steps against them."

Kozak wouldn't discuss cases of "extraordinary rendition." The term refers to the transfer of terrorist suspects by U.S. forces to such countries as Syria, Egypt and Jordan, where prisoner abuse is common.

Last week, Saudi Arabia shipped a U.S. citizen, Ahmed Omar Ali Abu, back to Virginia to face terrorism charges after he spent 20 months in a Saudi prison.

A federal judge said there was circumstantial evidence that U.S. officials were involved in his detention and interrogation and were aware that Saudi forces tortured Ali Abu.

Human rights advocates praised the detailed State Department report, but said it revealed contradictions in U.S. policy.

"It is a hard-hitting description of problem countries, including U.S. allies," said Tom Malinowski, the advocacy director for the Washington office of Human Rights Watch. "But now we see the gap between the principles that officials preach and the rules the administration applies to itself."

William Schulz, the executive director of Amnesty International USA, said the Bush administration is "apparently dealing from both sides of the deck, condemning countries for their use of torture while simultaneously delivering detainees into their prison cells."

The report, as in past years, cites violations of the Convention Against Torture, which proscribes "cruel, inhumane or degrading" treatment. That category includes treatment that may fall short of physical torture.

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said during his confirmation hearing that provisions of the convention, signed by the United States in 1994, apply to U.S. jurisdictions, but not to how U.S. forces treat foreigners held overseas.

"It's like saying Egyptians can't torture Egyptians, and Americans can't torture Americans, but what Americans do with others held overseas is not covered," said Malinowski, who worked in the State Department and on the National Security Council.

Kozak highlighted some of the new findings in the 2004 report. He said Russia "has moved backwards" with new restrictions on self-government.

He cited Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's promise of free elections as "a positive sign."

He also said that worsening corruption in Latin America meant an already weak judiciary can't protect basic rights for many citizens.

"This report is a manifestation of standing by people who are struggling for democracy," Kozak said.

———

Here's what the U.S. State Department said Monday about human rights practices in three countries where the United States has transferred terrorist suspects for detention and questioning:

EGYPT: Human rights record is poor. Security forces "continued to mistreat and torture prisoners." Torture and abuse "remained common and persistent" in jails. Examples: beatings, electric shock, stripping and blindfolding, dousing with cold water.

SYRIA: Human rights record is poor. Government continues to commit "numerous, serious abuses," including electric shock, pulling out fingernails and beatings, sometimes with the victim suspended from the ceiling. Prisoners often are stripped naked in front of others and forced to stand for long periods of time.

SAUDI ARABIA: Record of human rights abuses and violations "still far exceeds the advances." There are "credible reports of torture and abuse of prisoners by security forces, arbitrary arrests and incommunicado detentions." Examples: beatings, whippings and sleep deprivation "used to force confessions from prisoners."

For more details on the 196-page report go to the following Web site:

http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2004/index.htm

———

(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Need to map

  Comments