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Rights group assails US over abuse of suspects { January 19 2006 }

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January 19, 2006
Rights Group Assails the U.S. Over Abuse of Terror Suspects

WASHINGTON, Jan. 18 - Human Rights Watch asserted Wednesday that the Bush administration had undertaken a deliberate strategy of abusing terror suspects during interrogations, in ways, the group said, that undercut broader American interests. The criticism drew an unusually direct rebuff from the White House.

"In the course of 2005, it became indisputable that U.S. mistreatment of detainees reflected not a failure of training, discipline or oversight, but a deliberate policy choice," the rights group said in a sweeping critique in its annual report. "The problem could not be reduced to a few bad apples at the bottom of the barrel."

The group said the United States' detainee practices, along with the accusations that torture has possibly taken place at secret camps, had, together with what it said was a tendency of some Europeans to put business ahead of rights concerns, produced a "global leadership void" in defending human rights.

But Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, said he was "rejecting the description of the United States."

"When a group like this makes some of these assertions, it diminishes the effectiveness of that organization," he said. "It appears to be based more on a political agenda than facts."

"The United States," Mr. McClellan added, "does more than any country in the world to advance freedom and promote human rights."

Human Rights Watch suggests that a special prosecutor be named to investigate abuses, and that Congress establish an independent inquiry panel.

The group has long focused its reports on countries considered the world's most repressive, and its latest report lists abuses in countries like Nepal, Uzbekistan and Sudan.

But the report takes the United States to task because of its predominant role and its history of championing human rights abroad. "Any discussion of detainee abuse in 2005 must begin with the United States, not because it is the worst violator but because it is the most influential," the report said.

The prisoner abuse scandals of recent years have harmed American efforts to advocate democracy and to promote respect for rights abroad, the group said. "The willingness to flout human rights to fight terrorism is not only illegal and wrong; it is counterproductive," the report said. "These human rights violations generate indignation and outrage that spur terrorist recruitment."

In the past, American officials often cited the group's reports to make points about abuses abroad.

But lately the focus has shifted. When The Washington Post last year reported accusations that there were secret C.I.A. camps in Europe but, at the administration's request, did not identify the countries involved, Human Rights Watch angered American officials by naming towns where it said prisoners had been held.

In arguing that detainee abuse has been part of deliberate policy, the group cited President Bush's vow, later rescinded, to veto a bill opposing "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment," and Vice President Dick Cheney's efforts to exempt the C.I.A. from the same bill.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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