WASHINGTON – Operation Iraqi Freedom added to human misery worldwide because it increased rights violations, gave despots license to treat dissidents cruelly, and kept the world from debating human rights more vigorously, Amnesty International (search) said Wednesday.
In its annual report on human rights, the non-governmental organization said the worthy achievements of getting rid of Saddam Hussein and bringing freedom to Iraqi people have been tainted by the rise of violations it blames on the United States and its coalition partners.
"This is a case of throwing the baby out with the Baath Party," said William Schulz (search), executive director of Amnesty International.
Iraqi lawlessness itself is a violation of human rights, the group said. It said Operation Iraqi Freedom left much of Iraq in chaos where criminals run rampant and where the basic needs necessary for human rights to emerge — water, health care, security — don't exist.
The group did concede that discovery of mass graves and torture chambers speak to the scope of Saddam's brutality.
"We, of course, celebrate the end of his regime to the extent to which it results in the end of human rights violations, which it certainly does," Schulz said.
The White House and State Department responded that Amnesty has it backwards. Exposure of the brutality of Saddam's regime is doing more to advance the cause of human rights than years of U.N. resolutions and previous Amnesty reports ever accomplished.
The administration added that freedom from tyranny is the fundamental human right from which all others eventually flow.
"The world is rejoicing in the fact that, thanks to the efforts of the coalition, millions of people previously imprisoned are now free," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
But Amnesty argues the coalition of the willing comes with its own human rights baggage. It cites the Philippines, where civilians have been falsely arrested, wounded and killed in the joint U.S.-Philippine effort to eradicate the Abu Sayyef (search) Islamic militant group.
"The smoke of the battlefields of Iraq and the war against terrorism have unfortunately obscured human rights violations elsewhere in the world," Schulz said.
Schulz also argued that the United States is giving many repressive governments a reprieve on their human rights violations because of their willingness to support the war on terror, for instance, Yemen, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Amnesty also criticized tactics in the war on terror such as the U.S. detention of battlefield combatants in Cuba, a practice the United States stoutly defends.
"The people who are under detention in Guantanamo are being treated according to the standards of the third Geneva Convention and that as combatants, they need to be taken off the field as long as the fighting is going on," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.
The administration added that Amnesty misses a key point in the war on terror — that terror groups, not nation states, pose the greatest threat to human rights. Finding and fighting terrorists where they hide is not always work that conforms neatly to the Geneva Convention.
While Amnesty charged that the Iraq war distracted from the discussion on how to improve human rights worldwide, it did not offer any opinion on whether it was satisfied with Libya's chairmanship of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Amnesty cites Libya as a regular violator of human rights — one that routinely imprisons dissidents and tortures prisoners.
Fox News' Major Garrett contributed to this report.