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.
"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.
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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)