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New Report Warns USA's 'War on Terror' Detentions Setting World on 'Slippery Slope'

The US has sought unchallengeable executive power for itself in the 'war on terror' and has created a parallel justice system to detain, interrogate, charge or try suspects under the 'laws of war', Amnesty International said today, as it published a new report on detentions in Guantánamo Bay, in Afghanistan and in other locations around the world.

The 43-page report, 'The Threat Of A Bad Example: Undermining International Standards As 'War On Terror' Continues' , based in part on recent interviews conducted with detainees released from Guantánamo Bay, confirms that the totality of the Camp Delta regime can amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Similar concerns exist regarding other US bases and other 'undisclosed locations.'

The report also criticises illegal and secretive transfers from US custody to third-country detention in countries like Jordan, Syria and Egypt, raising fears that suspects in US custody (or in situations where US officials have exerted some control) are at a heightened risk of torture. Only last week it was reported that Saudi Arabia has been given a list of those to detain and question - said to number up to 12,000 - by US authorities.

Amnesty International said:

'The USA is on a slippery slope to promoting a world in which arbitrary unchallengeable detention becomes acceptable.'

At the US air base at Bagram in Afghanistan the human rights organisation has learnt of a regime reported to include forced stripping, hooding, blindfolding with blacked-out goggles, 24-hour lighting, sleep deprivation, inadequate exercise provision and prolonged restraint in painful positions. Here detainees are reportedly referred to by the US as 'people under control' and treated punitively.

One local human rights worker has reported that 20 former Afghan detainees have said that they were made to kneel naked in awkward positions for hours during questioning. One man has reported that he was kept for 16 days in the interrogation facility at Bagram and made to stand for 10 days - his legs becoming severely swollen and blood flow becoming restricted as his manacles cut into his legs.

It is believed that not even the Red Cross has had access to all detainees at Bagram.

Another former detainee of several US bases in both Afghanistan and at Guantánamo Bay - Sayed Abassin, a 28-year-old Afghan taxi-driver - has told Amnesty International of his transfer to a US base at Kandahar in Afghanistan. During this he was roughly handled, blindfolded, had his ears covered and a black bag placed over his head and taped around his neck. His hands and legs were tied. Detainees at Kandahar were, according to his testimony, not allowed to look at soldiers' faces - and if they did they were made to kneel for one hour. If they looked twice, they were made to kneel for two hours. The Kandahar base has since been closed.

Two deaths in custody have occurred at Bagram - apparently 'homicides' which are under investigation by the Pentagon - while Amnesty International is also calling for an investigation into the death of an Afghan man in US custody at a holding facility in Asadabad, Kunar province, Afghanistan around 22 June 2003.

Amnesty International said:

'The USA has variously used hooding, blindfolding, handcuffing, and shackling of detainees in Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay and Iraq.

'Guantánamo Bay's Camp Delta, for example, has gained such notoriety that US and other authorities have reportedly used it as a threat during interrogation, including US soldiers in Iraq.

'The conditions may be coercive in the context of the repeated interrogations to which the detainees have been subjected, interrogations that could be used for prosecutorial as well as intelligence-gathering purposes, or for coercing plea bargains.

'The stark fact is that detainees held in Guantánamo Bay, Bagram and elsewhere are at the mercy of the US government.

Amnesty International's report stresses that persistent ill-treatment allegations, a lack of access to independent human rights organisations and lawyers, and the possibility that the USA's understanding of what constitutes cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment may not meet international definitions, gives rise to serious concern as to the treatment of those in US custody.

Noting numerous protestations of 'example-setting' and of the USA's supposed adherence to international human rights standards, as well as citing the US State Department's own finding on human rights in other countries, Amnesty International's report stresses the dangerous example being set by the USA's 'war on terror' detentions.

Amnesty International said:

'All too often where the US leads others follow.

'Increasingly, by using the language of 'war', governments have disregarded human rights obligations; by using the term 'terror' they have endeavoured to avoid international human rights law; and by using the phrase 'war on terror' they have challenged the very framework of human rights and international humanitarian law.'

Currently, the US plans to try selected detainees in front of military commissions at which defendants' right to counsel of choice and to an effective defence will be severely restricted. The commissions, applicable only to non-US nationals, will also allow a lower standard of evidence than would be admissible in ordinary courts and will have the power to hand down death sentences.

Amnesty international said:

'It will be a case of second-class justice for foreign nationals in violation of the prohibition on the discriminatory application of fair trial rights.'

Among recommendations outlined in the report, the organisation is calling on the US government to:

  • drop all plans for trials by military commissions
  • ensure that all detainees are either charged with recognisable criminal offences or released
  • provide legal counsel to detainees, and treat all detainees humanely, ensuring they are not subjected to any treatment that would violate international law and standards
  • grant Amnesty International access to detainees and officials at Bagram Air Base and the naval base at Guantánamo Bay as well as other US-run military detention sites

Read the Report /p>

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