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Amnesty: War on terror sowing fear

U.S. attracted criticism for its treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
U.S. attracted criticism for its treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

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A report by Amnesty International says the U.S. war on terror is creating a worldwide climate of fear, CNN's Robyn Curnow reports (May 28)
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Amnesty International said Wednesday the U.S.-led war against terrorism is sowing fear and danger in the name of security across the globe and denying basic rights to those who have been arrested.

The group made the charge in remarks accompanying its annual report, a 311-page wide-ranging review of human rights abuses in 151 countries during the calendar year 2002.

There was no immediate reaction to the report from U.S. officials, but in the past they have denied allegations of human rights abuses.

The rights group said the United States "continued to deny international recognized rights to people arrested in the context of the 'war against terrorism.' Thousands were detained from the war in Afghanistan in defiance of international law."

Amnesty said foreign nationals arrested in the United States after September 11, 2001, terror attacks "were also deprived of safeguards under international law. They include 1,200 foreigners, mostly Muslim men who are Arab or South Asian.

"By the end of the year most detainees arrested during initial sweeps had been deported -- some to countries where it was feared they were at risk of being tortured -- or were released or charges with crimes unrelated to 'terrorism.'"

The report said more than 600 detainees are still being held at Camp X-Ray at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, "without being charged and without legal assistance."

"The USA refused to recognize them as prisoners of war or afford them other rights under international law," the report said.

"Conditions in Camp X-Ray and, later, in Camp Delta, gave cause for serious concern. U.S. forces also held hundreds of detainees in Afghanistan, or in undisclosed locations."

In the past the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service has denied basic human rights have been withheld from foreign nationals detained in the United States.

As for the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, U.S. officials contend they are "unlawful combatants" rather than prisoners of war and as a result are not covered by the Geneva Convention.

The "unlawful combatant" designation allows the U.S. to indefinitely interrogate the detainees for intelligence on Afghanistan's former Taliban authorities and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

During a hearing earlier this year in which lawyers representing men held at Guantanamo Bay sought access to their clients, Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement said terror attacks made detention at Guantanamo necessary for the suspects' "own protection and to prevent them from re-enlisting."

'Deepened divisions'

The effects of the U.S.-led war on terror have been far-reaching, Amnesty said in a statement.

"Far from making the world a safer place, [the war] has made it more dangerous by curtailing human rights, undermining the rule of international law and shielding governments from scrutiny. It has deepened divisions among people of different faiths and origins, sowing the seeds for more conflict," the statement said.

In a separate press conference Wednesday, William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said U.S.-led events of 2003 generated deleterious effects.

The war on Iraq provided an excuse for other countries "in the name of anti-terrorism or in the name of national security" to crack down on opponents of their regimes, he said.

Schulz said the Iraqi war was a "distraction of the world's attention from horrific human rights abuses elsewhere," and gave ammunition to countries that circumvent the United Nations and "use the excuse the United States itself does not respect international law."

Britain, which has been one of America's staunchest allies in its recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, declined to comment on the specific allegations.

"We welcome the report and we will be studying it," a Foreign Office spokesman told CNN. "We do respect Amnesty International and the work they do."

But the spokesman said the position of Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on the war against terrorism were well known and there was little to add.

Middle East abuses

Amnesty also stressed that the human rights situation was aggravated across much of the Middle East and North Africa in the name of combating terrorism.

"Clampdowns upon freedom of expression and assembly, and intimidation of human rights defenders proliferated," the report said.

"Impunity for human rights violations continued and victims and their families were largely denied justice. The region continued to suffer from judicial and extra-judicial executions, widespread use of torture and unfair trials."

The report cited examples of human rights abuses in virtually every country across the region -- Israel, the Palestinian territories, Algeria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Syria.

The report also said cited human rights abuses in Asian countries.

"In the name of combating 'terrorism,' governments stepped up the repression of their political opponents, detained people arbitrarily and introduced sweeping and often discriminatory laws that undermined the very foundations of international human rights and humanitarian law in several countries including Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, the Republic of Korea and Australia."

Amnesty Secretary-General Irene Khan said it was important that "we resist the manipulation of fear and challenge the narrow focus of the security agenda."

"The definition of security must be broadened to encompass the security of people, as well as states. That means a commitment to human rights. That means recognizing that insecurity and violence are best tackled by effective, accountable states which uphold, not violate human rights," Khan said.

In a statement summarizing the report, Amnesty said that "a war was fought in Iraq because of the suspected presence of weapons of mass destruction. But nothing was done to stop the well-documented flow of arms that fuel conflicts and cause massive human rights abuse in many parts of the world."

The group said the United States "has actively sought to undermine the International Criminal Court" as it claims to "bring justice to victims in Iraq."

Amnesty said the war on Iraq and the conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories were prominent in the news, but other conflicts across the globe have "taken a heavy toll" on human rights in places "as diverse as Cote d'Ivoire, Colombia, Burundi, Chechnya and Nepal." It also decried the human rights problems in Congo and Burundi.

"Although the human rights crisis in Israel and the occupied territories is among the issues most discussed -- it is the least acted upon by the international community," Amnesty said.

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