LONDON – The United States has failed to eradicate "widespread" torture of prisoners in its war on terrorism despite the international outcry over the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and abusive behavior at U.S. detention facilities in Cuba and Afghanistan, Amnesty International charged Wednesday.
The London-based human rights organization made its criticism in a report to the U.N. Committee against Torture, which will start meeting in Geneva this week to consider American compliance with the U.N. convention against torture and other cruel forms of punishment.
"Evidence continues to emerge of widespread torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees held in U.S. custody in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Iraq and other locations," the report said.
Amnesty International charged that no senior American officials have been held accountable for incidences of torture or ill-treatment and said legislation passed by Congress in 2005 has "serious limitations."
One section of that law, it said, refers to "cruel, unusual and inhumane treatment" banned under the U.S. Constitution as defined by a series of reservations the United States has expressed regarding the U.N. Convention against Torture.
The law is a step forward but still could leave the United States open to employ a narrower interpretation of what constitutes such treatment than is recognized under the convention, Amnesty said, adding that the United States should withdraw its reservations to the convention.
"Although the U.S. government continues to assert its condemnation of torture and ill treatment, these statements contradict what is happening in practice," said Curt Goering, senior deputy executive director of Amnesty International USA.
"The U.S. government is not only failing to take steps to eradicate torture. It is actually creating a climate in which torture and other ill-treatment can flourish — including by trying to narrow the definition of torture," he said.
The human rights watchdog also expressed concern over domestic U.S. violations of the U.N. torture convention, including use of excessive force by police and electroshock weapons and abuses against women in the prison system. The latter allegedly include sexual abuse by male guards and shackling of women while pregnant and in labor.
In Afghanistan, which U.S. forces invaded a few months after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to oust the Taliban for harboring Al Qaeda militants, hundreds of detainees remain in U.S. custody with no recourse to due legal process or human rights protection, Amnesty said.
There is no longer an international armed conflict in Afghanistan, nor is there a clear or recognized legal framework governing U.S. forces actions in that country, Amnesty said.
In the cases of both Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States has reportedly improved its procedures for handling prisoners since the Abu Ghraib scandal. But Amnesty said it continues to receive reports of torture or ill-treatment of detainees by U.S. troops.
Reported abuses involve alleged use of stun guns on handcuffed and blindfolded detainees in Iraq in March 2005 and hooding, shackling and deprivation of food and water at least up until March 2005 in Afghanistan, the report said.