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UN Investigator Urges Probe of Alleged US Torture

UN says "torture practices" under Bush not continuing * But Obama administration has failed to investigate

by Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS - A U.N. torture investigator said President Barack Obama has ended harsh interrogations that were commonplace during the Bush era but an independent probe is needed of U.S. practices since 2001.

The UN investigator reiterated calls by other U.N. officials for the Obama administration to investigate reports from reams of leaked military documents showing U.S. troops killed Iraqi civilians or ignored prisoner abuse by Iraqis.(CBS/AFP/Getty Images) "There is a major difference between the Bush and the Obama administration," Manfred Nowak told reporters on Tuesday. "To my knowledge, the torture practices under the Bush administration are not anymore continuing."

Nowak, an Austrian human rights lawyer who has been U.N. special rapporteur on torture for six years, called for an investigation of all allegations of U.S. torture and collusion with states that use torture since the fight against militants began in earnest after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.

Nowak was an outspoken critic of the Bush administration, above all for what he described as the "illegal" military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and secret transfers of suspected militants to third countries where prisoners were routinely tortured -- a practice known as "extraordinary rendition."

"I'm not receiving allegations -- and I received them during the Bush administration on a more or less daily basis -- of torture, ill treatment (and) rendition flights to countries that are torturing," he said.

Nowak said Obama, who took office in January 2009, appeared to be sincere in his desire to shut down the widely criticized Guantanamo Bay prison but had been impeded by Congress, governors of states who refused to let detainees be transferred and a lack of help from European nations.

Officials from President George W. Bush's administration have denied practicing torture but acknowledged using "enhanced interrogation" techniques on suspected militants such as waterboarding, in which water is forced down the noses and throats of prisoners to make them fear they are drowning.

Many human rights experts say waterboarding amounts to torture. Bush's rendition program was also heavily criticized.

"NOT MUCH HAS BEEN DONE"

Nowak criticized the Obama administration for not pursuing the allegations of torture under Bush.

There was "an obligation under the Convention Against Torture to independently investigate every allegation of torture or suspicion of torture, and there are plenty of allegations," he said. "Not much has been done."

The obligation, Nowak said, extended to the courts, which are required to prosecute those suspected of committing or supporting torture and to order the payment of compensation.

Nowak complained that the Obama administration, like Bush's before, has invoked state secrecy laws to block all civil litigation by victims of alleged rendition and torture.

Egypt, Syria, Morocco, Iraq and Afghanistan were among the countries to which the United States consistently sent suspected militants, he said.

Nowak also reiterated calls by him and other U.N. officials for the Obama administration to investigate reports from reams of leaked military documents showing U.S. troops killed Iraqi civilians or ignored prisoner abuse by Iraqis.

But he made clear a proper investigation should not be limited to Iraq and that congressional inquiries would not suffice because they are not in the public domain.

"What we need is a full investigation into torture practices by U.S. officials -- whether it's military officials, CIA officials or private security companies," he said, adding it should include those "who willingly and knowingly handed over detainees to other states" that torture.

An ideal probe, Nowak said, would be conducted by a special prosecutor or panel of international experts.

(Editing by John O'Callaghan)

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