May 3, 2006

Torture “widespread” under US custody: Amnesty

By Richard Waddington

GENEVA (Reuters) - Torture and inhumane treatment are
"widespread" in U.S.-run detention centers in Afghanistan,
Iraq, Cuba and elsewhere despite Washington's denials, Amnesty
International said on Wednesday.

In a report for the United Nations' Committee against
Torture, the London-based human rights group also alleged
abuses within the U.S. domestic law enforcement system,
including use of excessive force by police and degrading
conditions of isolation for inmates in high security prisons.

"Evidence continues to emerge of widespread torture and
other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of detainees held
in U.S. custody," Amnesty said in its 47-page report.

It said that while Washington has sought to blame abuses
that have recently come to light on "aberrant soldiers and lack
of oversight," much ill-treatment stemmed from officially
sanctioned interrogation procedures and techniques.

"The U.S. government is not only failing to take steps to
eradicate torture, it is actually creating a climate in which
torture and other ill-treatment can flourish," said Amnesty
International USA Senior Deputy Director-General Curt Goering.

The U.N. committee, whose experts carry out periodic
reviews of countries signatory to the U.N. Convention against
Torture, is scheduled to begin consideration of the United
States on Friday. The last U.S. review was in 2000.

It said in November it was seeking U.S. answers to
questions including whether Washington operated secret
detention centers abroad and whether President George W. Bush
had the power to absolve anyone from criminal responsibility in
torture cases.

The committee also wanted to know whether a December 2004
memorandum from the U.S. Attorney General's office, reserving
torture for "extreme" acts of cruelty, was compatible with the
global convention barring all forms of cruel, inhumane or
degrading treatment.


In its own submission to the committee, published late last
year, Washington justified the holding of thousands of foreign
terrorism suspects in detention centers abroad, including
Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, on the grounds that it was fighting a
war that was still not over.

"Like other wars, when they start, we do not know when they
will end. Still, we may detain combatants until the end of the
war," it said.

The U.S. human rights image has taken a battering abroad
over a string of scandals involving the sexual and physical
abuse of detainees held by American forces in Afghanistan, Iraq
and Guantanamo Bay.

In its submission, Washington did not mention alleged
secret detention centers.

Amnesty listed a series of incidents in recent years
involving torture of detainees in U.S. custody, noting the
heaviest sentence given to perpetrators was five months in

This was the same punishment you could get for stealing a
bicycle in the United States, it added.

"Although the U.S. government continues to assert its
condemnation of torture and ill-treatment, these statements
contradict what is happening in practice," said Goering,
referring to the testimony of torture victims in the report.