U.S. denies ignoring charges of torture

GENEVA — In the second day of an exchange with its human rights critics, the United States on Monday denied giving light punishments to service members and intelligence officers who carried out torture since the Sept. 11 attacks.

A delegation of American officials speaking before a UN panel on torture argued that the United States was acting to ensure that it adhered to its treaty obligations to prevent torture of prisoners despite the problems at prisons such as Abu Ghraib, Iraq. It characterized those cases as isolated.

“We recognize much of the world does hold the United States to a high standard,” said a State Department legal adviser, John Bellinger, who led the delegation. “Without question, our record has improved.”

The statements of the delegation, composed of 25 high-level officials, were in contrast to previous statements by Bush administration officials that international law should not constrain U.S. forces.

The USA and Torture

The record shows that America has both promoted and used torture, that the US government has fought against international anti-torture conventions, and that the USA in fact consistently violates international rules and conventions on a whole range of human rights issues.

The delegation responded to charges ranging from an American failure to prosecute officers and intelligence officials, to the transfer of prisoners to countries with poor human rights records. The delegation was also asked about the fate of foreign terrorism suspects supposedly held in CIA-run prisons.

Charles Stimpson, a deputy assistant secretary for prisoner affairs at the Defense Department, said U.S. courts had court-martialed 103 American servicemen and intelligence officers, leading to 19 convictions with jail terms of a year or more.

That was in contrast to figures quoted by the panel last week, citing human rights groups, of 54 court-martials, with 10 jail terms of a year or more.

Nora Sveaass, a Norwegian member of the UN committee, said the United States had given “very reassuring answers” on efforts to bring to justice those responsible for torture.

But human rights groups said the numbers were still low given the involvement of more than 600 servicemen in alleged torture, and they accused the United States of failing to admit the scale of the problem.

“Instead of issuing a ‘mea culpa,’ they instead tried to justify themselves by arguing over the numbers,” said Jennifer Daskal, advocacy director for U.S. programs at Human Rights Watch, a nongovernmental organization, speaking outside the meeting.

Stimpson also said that waterboarding, a technique in which a terror suspect is made to believe he is drowning, would not be included in a revised U.S. Army Field Manual that is now being debated in Congress.

The manual lays out which interrogation techniques soldiers are permitted.

But rights groups pointed out that the delegation did not explicitly say that waterboarding was a form of torture. Nor did the Americans explain whether intelligence officers, who are not covered by the field manual, would be banned from using the technique.

Under the Convention Against Torture, a 1987 treaty, the United States was supposed to have reported to the United Nations panel on its compliance by 1999.

The panel, known as the Committee Against Torture, will review the American report and issue findings later this month. It has no power to enforce its conclusions.

The refusal by the United States to discuss intelligence operations also concerned the panel. Fernando Marin~o Menendez of Spain asked whether forced disappearance of terrorist suspects and the running of secret prisons constituted a form of torture.

Bellinger, the U.S. delegation leader, said: “I don’t think one can say per se that it is.” The United States, he said, believes that certain terrorism suspects have foregone rights to communicate with family and others outside.

The United States also said it was not bound by the terms of the convention from sending prisoners for questioning in countries where they could face risk of torture. At the moment, the United States seeks diplomatic assurances from foreign countries with poor human rights records that they will not torture prisoners.

Menendez cited the case of a suspect who was allegedly tortured in Egypt despite diplomatic assurances. Failure to abide by these assurances would be “highly relevant” in decisions by the United States over whether to send terrorism suspects to countries in the future, Bellinger said. As for Abu Ghraib, Stimpson acknowledged that the United States had failed to protect detainees in Iraq, “and that was wrong.”

GENEVA In the second day of an exchange with its human rights critics, the United States on Monday denied giving light punishments to service members and intelligence officers who carried out torture since the Sept. 11 attacks.

A delegation of American officials speaking before a UN panel on torture argued that the United States was acting to ensure that it adhered to its treaty obligations to prevent torture of prisoners despite the problems at prisons such as Abu Ghraib, Iraq. It characterized those cases as isolated.

“We recognize much of the world does hold the United States to a high standard,” said a State Department legal adviser, John Bellinger, who led the delegation. “Without question, our record has improved.”

The statements of the delegation, composed of 25 high-level officials, were in contrast to previous statements by Bush administration officials that international law should not constrain U.S. forces.

The delegation responded to charges ranging from an American failure to prosecute officers and intelligence officials, to the transfer of prisoners to countries with poor human rights records. The delegation was also asked about the fate of foreign terrorism suspects supposedly held in CIA-run prisons.

Charles Stimpson, a deputy assistant secretary for prisoner affairs at the Defense Department, said U.S. courts had court-martialed 103 American servicemen and intelligence officers, leading to 19 convictions with jail terms of a year or more.

That was in contrast to figures quoted by the panel last week, citing human rights groups, of 54 court-martials, with 10 jail terms of a year or more.

Nora Sveaass, a Norwegian member of the UN committee, said the United States had given “very reassuring answers” on efforts to bring to justice those responsible for torture.

But human rights groups said the numbers were still low given the involvement of more than 600 servicemen in alleged torture, and they accused the United States of failing to admit the scale of the problem.

“Instead of issuing a ‘mea culpa,’ they instead tried to justify themselves by arguing over the numbers,” said Jennifer Daskal, advocacy director for U.S. programs at Human Rights Watch, a nongovernmental organization, speaking outside the meeting.

Stimpson also said that waterboarding, a technique in which a terror suspect is made to believe he is drowning, would not be included in a revised U.S. Army Field Manual that is now being debated in Congress.

The manual lays out which interrogation techniques soldiers are permitted.

But rights groups pointed out that the delegation did not explicitly say that waterboarding was a form of torture. Nor did the Americans explain whether intelligence officers, who are not covered by the field manual, would be banned from using the technique.

Under the Convention Against Torture, a 1987 treaty, the United States was supposed to have reported to the United Nations panel on its compliance by 1999.

The panel, known as the Committee Against Torture, will review the American report and issue findings later this month. It has no power to enforce its conclusions.

The refusal by the United States to discuss intelligence operations also concerned the panel. Fernando Marin~o Menendez of Spain asked whether forced disappearance of terrorist suspects and the running of secret prisons constituted a form of torture.

Bellinger, the U.S. delegation leader, said: “I don’t think one can say per se that it is.” The United States, he said, believes that certain terrorism suspects have foregone rights to communicate with family and others outside.

The United States also said it was not bound by the terms of the convention from sending prisoners for questioning in countries where they could face risk of torture. At the moment, the United States seeks diplomatic assurances from foreign countries with poor human rights records that they will not torture prisoners.

Menendez cited the case of a suspect who was allegedly tortured in Egypt despite diplomatic assurances. Failure to abide by these assurances would be “highly relevant” in decisions by the United States over whether to send terrorism suspects to countries in the future, Bellinger said. As for Abu Ghraib, Stimpson acknowledged that the United States had failed to protect detainees in Iraq, “and that was wrong.”

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Source

(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
International Herald Tribune, France
May 8, 2006
Tom Wright
www.iht.com

Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday May 9, 2006.
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