The Bush administration’s ‘global war on terrorism’ continued to set back the cause of human rights in 2005, according to a major US rights group, which said that the US and European hypocrisy in carrying out that war led to a “global leadership void” that had been taken advantage of by more opportunistic powers, particularly Russia and China.

In the latest in its annual series of World Reports, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) singled out the Bush administration’s multiple defences of its abusive treatment of detainees as both counter-productive to its efforts to defeat Islamist extremism and particularly destructive to its credibility as a global human rights champion.

The report charged that torture and mistreatment of prisoners has been a “deliberate policy choice” of the administration’s counter-terrorism strategy and that new evidence of widespread abuse that came to light during 2005 made it clear that “the problem could not be reduced to a few bad apples at the bottom of the barrel.”

In an introduction to the report, HRW’s Executive Director Kenneth Roth stressed that while the administration’s detention policies were particularly destructive, its support of abusive allies in the war on terror was also costly. It cited in particular its backing for Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf; its equivocal response to the massacre of hundreds of protestors in Andijan, Uzbekistan, last May; its lifting of military sanctions against Indonesia; and its failure to speak out more forcefully against repression in Russia and serious rights abuses in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

But Washington was not alone in its hypocrisy, the report noted. The UK had not only acted as an “apologist” for US detention policies, but had also proposed adopting Washington’s controversial practice of “extraordinary renditions” in violation of the UN Convention Against Torture. The EU also proved disappointing during the year. With the exception of Uzbekistan, where the EU suspended its partnership and cooperation agreement and imposed other sanctions after President Islam Karimov refused to agree to an international inquiry into the Andijan massacre, the EU and its member states were reluctant to sacrifice business and important political interests for strong promotion of human rights, according to the report.

In the absence of western leadership on human rights, Russia and China “have been all too eager to assert themselves”, according to the report, which characterised the two countries’ evolving role as “nefarious”. China welcomed Karimov to Beijing and a major aid package within two weeks of the killings. Russia also lined up behind the Uzbek leader and signed a mutual-defence treaty with him several months later.

The report also noted that Russia, China and Uzbekistan, as well as a number of other repressive states, had effectively used the “war on terrorism” to brand their political foes as “Islamic terrorists” and justify harsh treatment against them. Washington’s credibility in speaking out against such treatment was badly undermined by its own record of detainee abuse, according to the report, which noted that what public pressure the administration exerted, on Arab Middle Eastern countries in particular, to adopt reforms was generally confined to promoting elections. — IPS