The Bush administration should appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the U.S. naval base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to regain the United States’ credibility around the world, a human rights group said Thursday.
“Special prosecutors have been appointed for far lesser crimes,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of New York-based Human Rights Watch.
“All that’s happened is a flurry of self-investigation,” he added as the group released its annual report on human rights in 60 countries. “There is an urgent need to [reinstate] the prohibition of torture and to redeem the Unites States’ credibility.”
An independent commission headed by former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger agreed with the Bush administration in August that the blame for the abuses at Abu Ghraib lay mainly with the U.S. soldiers who ran the jail. But the panel also said senior commanders and top-level defense officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, could be faulted for failed leadership and oversight.
Warning on Gonzales
The near-certainty of Alberto Gonzales’ confirmation to be attorney general adds urgency to an independent probe, Roth said.
As White House counsel, Gonzales issued a legal opinion to Bush saying terrorists captured overseas by Americans did not merit the human rights protections of the Geneva Conventions. He also said at confirmation hearings last week that he was sickened by accounts that U.S. officials tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
“We can no longer have any confidence that a genuine independent investigation can be launched by the Justice Department,” Roth said.
At stake is the United States’ credibility as world leader on human rights and in the fight against terrorism, he said.
The report cited two matters as posing “fundamental threats to human rights” around the world:
- Treatment of the detainees.
- Ethnic cleansing in Darfur, Sudan, in which tens of thousands of people have died and millions of others have been displaced in a civil war.
Human Rights Watch said the United Nations or “any responsible group of governments” should deploy a force to protect the civilian population and create secure conditions for people to return home.
“Continued inaction risks undermining a fundamental human rights principle: That the nations of the world will never let sovereignty stand in the way of their responsibility to protect people from mass atrocities,” it said.
“The vitality of human rights defense worldwide depends on a firm response to both of these threats,” it concluded.
Elsewhere in the report of more than 500 pages, the group said there was growing evidence of conflicts between religious communities and the human rights movement, as well as a backlash against movements for the rights of sexual minorities. Human Rights Watch argues against “efforts in the name of religion, tradition, or morals to censor expression or limit the behavior of others.”