U.S. rights report takes allies to task

WASHINGTON – The State Department’s annual report on human rights yesterday criticized dozens of governments for mistreating prisoners and condemned the use of torture in three countries – Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia – where U.S. forces have transferred detainees or arranged for their custody.

America’s Hypocrisy

“The United States has long regarded itself as a beacon of human rights, as evidenced by an enlightened constitution, judicial independence, and a civil society grounded in strong traditions of free speech and press freedom. But the reality is more complex; for decades, civil rights and civil liberties groups have exposed constitutional violations and challenged abusive policies and practices. In recent years, as well, international human rights monitors have documented serious gaps in U.S. protections of the human rights of vulnerable groups. Both federal and state governments have nonetheless resisted applying to the U.S. the standards that, rightly, the U.S. applies elsewhere.”
Human Rights Watch

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 Ukraine. China, where challenges to the Communist Party are banned, was cited for detentions of writers, religious activists and dissidents. Latin America was criticized for corruption.

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

The 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.

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 your own finances – it wouldn’t have any credibility,” said Michael Kozak, a State Department rights official. “We’re not against being scrutinized, and we are, by many other organizations.”

Rights advocates praised the detailed 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, 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, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said the Bush administration was “apparently dealing from both sides of the deck, condemning countries for their use of torture while simultaneously delivering detainees into their prison cells.”

Last week, Saudi Arabia sent a U.S. citizen, Ahmed Omar Ali Abu, back to Virginia to face terrorism charges after he spent 20 months in prison. A federal judge said there was circumstantial evidence that U.S. officials were involved in his detention.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Philadelphia Inquirer, USA
Mar. 1, 2005
Frank Davies

Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday March 1, 2005.
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