Tuesday, October 24, 2006
UNITED NATIONS --Several governments around the world have tried to rebut criticism of how they handle detainees by claiming they are only following the U.S. example in the war on terror, the U.N. anti-torture chief said Monday.
Manfred Nowak, the U.N. special investigator on torture, said that when he criticizes governments for their questionable treatment of detainees, they respond by telling him that if the United States does something, it must be all right. He would not name any countries except for Jordan.
"The United States has been the pioneer, if you wish, of human rights and is a country that has a high reputation in the world," Nowak told a news conference. "Today, many other governments are kind of saying, 'But why are you criticizing us, we are not doing something different than what the United States is doing?'"
Nowak said that because of its prominence, the United States has a greater responsibility to uphold international standards for its prisoners so other nations do not use it as an excuse to justify their own behavior.
The remarks were the latest in a tense back-and-forth between Nowak and the United States.
He has been an outspoken critic of U.S. detainee policy, chastising the United States for maintaining secret prisons. He has also been skeptical about new legislation that would protect detainees from blatant abuse -- such as rape and torture -- but does not require automatic legal counsel and specifically bars detainees from protesting their detentions in federal courts.
State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper said Monday night that he had not seen Nowak's comments and had no response.
Nowak reiterated his opposition to that prohibition, saying "we should have enough trust in them that they should be the ones to deal with" the detainees.
He has said the United States must close its Guantanamo Bay detention facility and refused an invitation to visit because he would not be allowed to interview detainees. Nowak has reported that reliable accounts indicate suspected terror detainees being held there have been tortured.
Nonetheless, Nowak said the United States had improved its handling of detainees, particularly in Iraq after the Abu Ghraib scandal. The big problem in Iraq now were allegations of detainee torture by militias and the Interior Ministry.
He said detainees were now afraid of being transferred from the control of multinational forces to Iraqi prisons.
"They would prefer if they are in detention now to be in the international detention facilities rather than the Iraqi detention facilities," Nowak said.
Nowak also recently canceled a trip to Russia after he was told Russian law prohibited him from visiting detainees. He had planned to go there from Oct. 9-20. He said countries need to make sure his terms of reference -- which give him the right to meet with detainees -- are obeyed.
"I would appeal to governments before inviting to really make sure that their domestic laws and policies fully comply with my terms of reference," he said. "Otherwise, it doesn't make much sense to invite me."