WASHINGTON -- October 27 -- Without a comprehensive, independent investigation into the United States' torture and ill-treatment of detainees, the conditions remain for further abuses to occur, Amnesty International warned today as it released a 200-page report cataloguing the United States' three-year descent into the use of torture. The report was released 6 months after CBS News first broadcast the photographs of torture at Abu Ghraib.
Based on an analysis of relevant policy decisions and specific incidents of abuse, the organization cites more than 65 specific recommendations that, if implemented by the US government, would provide substantial safeguards against further torture and abuse. Among these is a call on President Bush to make public and revoke any measures or directives that have been authorized by him or any other official that could be interpreted as authorizing "disappearances," torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, or extrajudicial executions.
"Many questions remain unanswered, responsible individuals are beyond the scope of investigation, policies that facilitate torture remain in place, and prisoners continue to be held in secret detention," said Dr. William F. Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA. "The failure to substantially change policy and practice after the scandal of Abu Ghraib leaves the US government completely lacking in credibility when it asserts its opposition to torture."
In the report -- Human Dignity Denied: Torture and Accountability in the 'War on Terror' - the organization documents the pattern of human rights violations that run from Afghanistan to Abu Ghraib via Guantánamo Bay and extend to "secret" overseas detention facilities. It outlines how, despite the administration's claims that the atrocities of September 11, 2001, ushered in a "new paradigm" requiring "new thinking," the US has fallen into a historically familiar pattern of violating human rights in the name of national security.
The report notes that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld authorized stripping, isolation, hooding, stress positions, sensory deprivation, and the use of dogs in interrogations, as well as in effect authorizing a "disappearance" by ordering military officials in Iraq to keep a detainee off any prison register. In international human rights terms, his conduct, and that of the administration as a whole, has been far from exemplary. Indeed, he and the administration have authorized human rights violations. Despite this, to date no senior US official has been held accountable.
"The denial of habeas corpus, the use of incommunicado and secret detention
-- in some cases amounting to "disappearance" -- and the sanctioning of harsh interrogation techniques are classic but flawed responses," Amnesty International said. "By lowering safeguards, demonizing detainees and displaying a disregard for its international legal obligations, the administration at best sowed confusion among interrogators and at worst gave the green light to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."
Amnesty International welcomes the official investigations and reviews initiated since the photographs from Abu Ghraib stirred the government into a more responsive mode than it had displayed to allegations of abuse raised by Amnesty International and other groups over the previous two years. These investigations have punctured the administration's assertions that the torture and ill-treatment were restricted to Abu Ghraib and a few aberrant soldiers.
However, Amnesty International believes that a broader commission of inquiry is still needed, not least because the reviews so far conducted cannot be seen as genuinely independent, have not been comprehensive in scope, and have included a tolerance for abusive interrogation techniques. The commission of inquiry would benefit from international input, such as from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture.
Amnesty International has been calling for such a commission since last May. Composed of credible experts, it could be appointed by Congress, but must be independent of government. To ensure full accountability, it should have the necessary powers to be able to fully investigate all US "war on terror" detention policies, practices and facilities worldwide. It should be able to investigate all levels and agencies of government. To date, the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency, for example, remain shrouded in secrecy, as does the issue of alleged secret transfers of detainees between countries.
In addition, the report suggests a framework by which the US could work toward preventing future torture and ill-treatment of detainees in its custody. This framework is Amnesty International's 12-Point Program for the Prevention of Torture by Agents of the State, developed from more than 30 years of working against torture. The report shows that the US failed to maintain basic safeguards against torture and ill-treatment. It offers more than 65 recommendations for the authorities.
Point 1 of the 12-Point Program is "Condemn Torture" -- the highest officials of the country should make clear their absolute and unequivocal opposition to torture and ill-treatment under any circumstances, including war and any other public emergency. Government documents that have come into the public domain in recent months show that the Bush Administration utterly failed in this regard as it embarked on the "war on terror."
"What these documents show is a two-faced strategy to torture," Amnesty International said. "It has been a case of proclaim your opposition to torture in public, while in private discuss how your President can order torture and how government agents can escape criminal liability for torture."
There has been a marked reluctance among members of the Bush Administration
-- whose previously secret documents discussed how to narrow the definition of torture -- to call what happened in Abu Ghraib torture, preferring the term "abuse."
A government's unequivocal condemnation of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment must mean what it says. If it genuinely opposes torture and ill-treatment, it must act accordingly. From this simple proposition, all other 11 points of Amnesty International's 12-Point Program for the Prevention of Torture by Agents of the State follow.
"The Bush Administration has itself repeatedly stated that respect for human rights is the route to peace and security," Amnesty International said. "Yet its detention and interrogation policies suggest that it sees fundamental human rights as an obstacle. It must change its approach."
The US and other countries face serious security threats, including those posed by groups determined to pursue their fight by abusing fundamental human rights without restraint. Governments have a duty to protect people's rights from such threats. In so doing, however, governments must not lose sight of other human rights and of their obligation to respect them. Freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is a fundamental human right. Under international law, no exceptional circumstances whatsoever may be invoked to justify violation of this right. The US has played an important role in the development of this legal prohibition. It should not allow this long-established system of protection to unravel.