January 13, 2005
Human Rights Group Criticizes U.S.
The Bush administration should appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the abuse of detainees at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to regain the United States' credibility around the world, a human rights group said Thursday.
By LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration should appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the abuse of detainees at Iraq (news - web sites)'s Abu Ghraib prison, and 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 James R. Schlesinger agreed with the Bush administration in August 2004 that the blame for the abuses at Abu Ghraib lies mainly with the American soldiers who ran the jail. But the panel also said senior commanders and top-level Pentagon (news - web sites) officials — including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld — can be faulted for failed leadership and oversight.
The near-certainty of attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales's confirmation to head the Justice Department (news - web sites) adds urgency to an independent probe of abuses of detainees, Roth said.
As White House counsel, Gonzales issued a legal opinion to Bush saying terrorists captured overseas by Americans do 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 American 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 have died and millions displaced in a civil war.
Human Rights Watch said the United Nations (news - web sites) 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," Human Rights Watch said.
"The vitality of human rights defense worldwide depends on a firm response to both of these threats," Human Rights Watch concluded.
Elsewhere in the more than 500-page report, the group said there is growing evidence of conflicts between religious communities and the human rights movement, and 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."
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Millions on the brink of starvation in Horn of Africa - UN
Six million people are on the brink of starvation in the Horn of Africa region due to severe drought, crop failure and depletion of livestock herds, the United Nations said on Friday. The U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that in Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia more than 11 million people are estimated to be in need of assistance.