NEW YORK - As a group of retired
military leaders prepared to urge U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to
quickly put an end to the harsh interrogation practices inflicted on
security prisoners, a new United Nations report charged that Iraqi
authorities were committing "grave human rights violations" in their
treatment of thousands of detainees.
"Grave human rights
violations ... remain unaddressed," the U.N. report said. It cited
"ongoing widespread ill-treatment and torture of detainees by Iraqi law
enforcement authorities, amid pervasive impunity of current and past
human rights abuses."
The U.N. report cast doubt on whether Iraq will be prepared to
professionally manage control over thousands of security detainees now
in U.S. custody under a new security pact that would end the U.S.
mission there by 2012. Approved by Iraq's parliament last week, the
agreement mandates that U.S. forces transfer to Iraqi custody all
detainees believed to be a major threat and to release the rest "in a
safe and orderly manner".
As an example, the U.N. report said that 123 men crammed had
been into a single 540-square-foot cell -- about the size of a studio
apartment. It urged the Iraqi government to speed up legal reforms and
strengthen the judicial system as it asserts more control over its own
affairs. The report also renewed concern about the U.S. detention of
suspects for prolonged periods without judicial review of their cases.
The U.N.'s special representative in Iraq estimated that there
were now a total of 40,000 detainees, including some 15,800 being held
by the U.S. military.
Meanwhile, the issue of detainee treatment continued to be a front-and-centre issue for the newly elected U.S. president.
On Wednesday, members of the Obama team will meet with more
than a dozen retired military leaders who will urge the new president
"to restore a U.S. image battered by allegations of torturing terrorism
"We need to remove the stain, and the stain is on us, as well
as on our reputation overseas," said a member of the group, retired
Vice Adm. Lee Gunn, former Navy inspector general.
The group plans to suggest a list of anti-torture principles,
including making the Army Field Manual the single standard for all U.S.
interrogators, revoking presidential orders allowing the CIA to use
harsh treatment, giving the International Red Cross access to all
prisoners held by intelligence agencies and declaring a moratorium on
"rendering" prisoners to third countries for harsh interrogations.
The Army Field Manual requires humane treatment and forbids
practices such as waterboarding -- a form of simulated drowning widely
condemned as torture.
"If he'd just put a couple of sentences in his inaugural
address, stating the new position, then everything would flow from
that," said retired Maj. Gen. Fred Haynes, whose regiment in World War
Two raised the U.S. flag on Iwo Jima.
Obama has denounced waterboarding and other forms of harsh questioning allowed by secret orders.
"Torture is how you create enemies, not how you defeat them,"
he said in October 2007. He has also vowed to close the Guantanamo Bay
prison for terrorism suspects, an international symbol of prisoner
The retired military officers have previously met with Vice
President-elect Joseph Biden and with Senator Hillary Clinton, who has
been nominated b y Obama to be his Secretary of State.
U.S. President George W. Bush has repeatedly denied condoning
torture, but his denials have been widely doubted at home and abroad. A
Justice Department report this year found the White House ignored
reports it received that FBI agents viewed some Guantanamo
interrogations as "borderline torture".
While the issues of Guantanamo's closing, rendition, and harsh
interrogation techniques pose ongoing challenges for President-elect
Obama, the administration of George W. Bush is being accused of
continuing such abuses.
In the latest allegation, a Muslim American, Naji Hamdan of Los
Angeles, charged that he was tortured and beaten into confessing to a
terrorism-related charge by the security services of Abu Dhabi -- part
of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates (UAE) -- which he said held him
for nearly three months at the request of the U.S. government.
Hamdan, a 42-year-old naturalised U.S. citizen, told his brother by
telephone this week that he confessed to terror-related charges after
continually being beaten and subjected to harsh treatment.
"They beat him very badly," Hossam Hemdan told news media
here. "They stood on his back and another person pulled his feet. They
beat him on the bottoms of his feet," he charged. "He said he had a
liver problem. They beat him on his liver on the right side [of his
body]" until he lost consciousness.
Following his confession, he was placed in the custody of the
Abu Dhabi criminal justice system, where he is currently being
Hamdan was arrested in Los Angeles last August after several
years of surveillance by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation
(FBI). The FBI has acknowledged that the case involved counterterrorism
but has denied asking the UAE to hold him. How he got to Abu Dhabi is
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit in
Federal Court charging that the administration illegally asked the UAE
security services to hold Hamdan in order to avoid granting him his
constitutional protections against illegal and unlimited detention.
The lawsuit named President Bush, Attorney General Michael
Mukasey and FBI Director Robert Mueller as defendants and asked that
the administration be ordered to demand Hamdan's release.