New call for probe of U.S. treatment of prisoners

/ Source: The Associated Press

Amnesty International on Wednesday renewed its call for the United States to set up an independent investigation of the abuse of prisoners in Afghanistan, at Guantanamo Bay and at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The organization denied it was seeking to influence the U.S. presidential election with its 200-page report, but expressed disappointment the issue had not been prominent in the campaign.

“We feel that this is the last chance to get it on the agenda of the candidates,” Amnesty International spokeswoman Theresa Richardson said in London.

Richardson added that six months had passed since the photographs of Iraqi prisoners being humiliated at the Abu Ghraib were first shown on U.S. television. “It’s taken this long for us to pull this report together,” she said.

The organization noted it had first called in May for an independent investigation, perhaps by the U.S. Congress.

Subpoena powers sought
The report called for a commission with subpoena powers and full access to secret information and agencies. To insure impartiality, the commission should include international experts, it said.

Short of such a full inquiry, Amnesty International urged the U.S. government to unequivocally condemn torture and ban it by legislation, ensure access to prisoners, abolish secret detentions, ratify relevant international treaties and pay reparations to victims.

Amnesty said military investigations have shown that alleged U.S. abuses have not been confined either to Abu Ghraib or to a few soldiers.

“(Yet) there remains a need for a full commission of inquiry that takes a genuinely comprehensive and independent look at the U.S.A.’s ’war on terror’ detention and interrogation policies and procedures, and examines the activities of all government agencies and all levels of government,” the report said. “Full accountability is crucial.”

Three U.S. soldiers have been sentenced to prison terms of between eight months and eight years for abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Two more soldiers are due to stand trial early next year.

However, the highest-ranking soldier indicted so far is Staff Sgt. Ivan “Chip” Frederick, who received the eight-year sentence. No senior officers have been charged, although several have received letters of reprimand or were relieved of command.

Generals report abuses
In September, eight former generals and admirals wrote “there are now dozens of well-documented allegations of torture, abuse and otherwise questionable detention practices” in prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, and they urged in a letter that President Bush appoint an independent commission to investigate.

In a report that drew heavily on investigation already undertaken by U.S. authorities, the London-based human rights organization accused the United States of tolerating abuses of prisoners in its war on terrorism and falling short of the standards it routinely applies in criticizing other governments.

“The photographs of torture and ill-treatment of detainees in Abu Ghraib prison did not come out of the blue, but followed numerous allegations of abuse in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay raised with the U.S. authorities over the previous two years,” Amnesty International said.

“When it suited the U.S. government’s aims in its buildup to the invasion of Iraq, the administration cited Amnesty International’s reports on torture in that country. When the alleged abuse involved U.S. agents, its response was denial and disregard for the organization’s concerns,” the report said.