Outsourcing torture under fire

Thalif Deen

The US, which pursues a widely-criticised policy of transferring terrorist suspects to countries known to routinely torture prisoners, has come under fire from U.N. diplomats and human rights organisations.

“If (President George W) Bush’s ambitious proposal to convert the world’s repressive regimes to multi-party democracies becomes a reality,” one Asian diplomat who declined to be named said sarcastically, “the US will run out of countries where prisoners could be tortured.” Until then, he said, “we should name and shame governments that outsource torturing.” A coalition of eight international human rights groups did precisely that on Thursday, when it singled out seven North American and European countries for their policy of “rendition.” Under this policy, terrorist suspects have been transferred to countries such as Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Jordan, Yemen and Uzbekistan—all candidates for US multiparty democracy—for “aggressive methods of persuasion” that are considered illegal in the United States.

The seven Western countries—the US, Canada, Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Sweden—have either attempted to transfer or have already transferred some of their prisoners to countries described in a coalition statement as “the most abusive (of human rights) in the world.” The eight non-governmental organisations—including Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, Association for the Prevention of Torture, and International Federation for Human Rights —said that Western governments are undermining the global ban on torture by their policy of rendition.

HRW, in a report released Wednesday, documented over 63 cases in which so-called Islamic militants were transferred to Egypt for detention and interrogation. The practice dates back to 1994 but has accelerated since the Sep. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the US, the report said.

Since the attacks, it added, the total number sent to Egypt could be as high as 200. HRW’s Veronika Szente Goldston told IPS that the coalition has appealed for action by the UN Committee Against Torture, in session in Geneva through May 20.

“This is a longstanding concern of ours,” Goldston said, pointing out that Canada, one of the countries accused of this practice, is due to submit its own periodic report on torture to the UN committee’s current session. She said if the charges came to be proved, the seven countries would be in violation of the 1994 UN convention against torture, a legally binding treaty.

Last week, the US submitted its own periodic report to the committee saying it is opposed to torture, despite the widespread abuse of prisoners in the US-run Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.

Goldston said the 200-page US report would be discussed when the UN committee meets again in November. “We are studying the report and we will have a lot to comment on,” she added. In a newspaper interview last January, US President George W Bush was unequivocal in denying US use of torture and outsourcing of torture.

But delegates at the recently-concluded meeting of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, said the US had lost is moral authority to criticise other nations, judging by the widely publicised torture and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners and at Guantanamo Bay. —IPS