Wed 27 October, 2004
By Kate Kelland
LONDON (Reuters) - The United States has failed to guard against torture and inhuman behaviour since launching its "war on terror" after September 11, 2001, Amnesty International has said in a report just days before the U.S. election.
The rights group called on President George W. Bush and his Democratic challenger John Kerry to promise to take prompt action to address the issue head on if elected on November 2.
It condemned Bush's response to the 2001 attacks on U.S. cities, saying it had resulted in an "iconography of torture, cruelty and degradation".
Amnesty's report accused Washington of stepping onto a "well-trodden path of violating basic rights in the name of national security or 'military necessity'."
"The war mentality the government has adopted has not been matched with a commitment to the laws of war and it has discarded fundamental human rights principles along the way," it said.
At best, Washington was guilty of setting conditions for torture and cruel treatment by lowering safeguards and failing to respond adequately to allegations of abuse, it said.
At worst, it had authorised interrogation techniques which flouted its international obligation to reject torture and ill-treatment under any circumstances.
An army general acknowledged for the first time in August that U.S. troops tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq.
Pentagon leaders and Bush's officials had previously steered clear of describing the physical abuse and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners as torture.
Photographs published in April showed U.S. soldiers posing and smiling as naked, male Iraqi prisoners were stacked in a pyramid or positioned to simulate sex acts with one another.
One prisoner was standing on a box with his head hooded and wires attached to his hands. He had been told he would be electrocuted if he fell off the box.
Amnesty said the U.S. and the world would be "haunted by these and other images for years to come". They were "icons of a government's failure to put human rights at its heart".
Wednesday's report -- "Human dignity denied: Torture and accountability in the 'war on terror'" -- urged Bush and Kerry to commit to opening an independent inquiry into all U.S. interrogation and detention policies.
"The core message of this report is that the prevention of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is primarily a matter of political will," it said.
Amnesty also criticised a tendency in the U.S. to gloss over aspects of war and violence -- referring to torture and degrading treatment as "stress and duress" for example -- which it said threatened to promote tolerance of them.
"The human rights violations which the U.S. government has been so reluctant to call torture when committed by its own agents are annually described as such by the State Department when they occur in other countries," the report said.
"Double standards have greatly undermined the credibility of the U.S.'s global discourse on human rights," it said.