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Amnesty: 'Bankrupt' war on terror is world's most damaging conflict in 50 years

By Kim Sengupta

27 May 2004

Human Rights and international laws have come under the most sustained attack in 50 years from the "war on terror" led by the United States and Britain, Amnesty International says.

The scathing indictment came in Amnesty's annual report, which accused the US administration of George Bush in particular of pursuing policies "bankrupt of vision and bereft of principles".

The American government is charged with "sacrificing human rights in the name of security at home, turning a blind eye to abuses abroad, using pre-emptive military force where and when it chooses". This draconian approach, Amnesty says, has "damaged justice and freedom, and made the world a more dangerous place".

In Iraq, "hundreds of civilians were killed and thousands injured" as a result of bombing by the US and Britain, it says. "Many civilians were killed as a result of excessive use of force by coalition forces. Scores of women were abducted, raped and killed as law and order broke down after the war. Torture and ill treatment by coalition forces were widespread."

The report accuses the US and Britain of "failing to live up to their responsibilities under international humanitarian law as occupying powers, including their duty to restore and maintain public order and safety, and to provide food, medical care and relief assistance".

While President Bush and Tony Blair proclaimed that they had liberated the people of Iraq from Saddam Hussein's brutal regime, "little action was taken to address past human rights violations, including mass disappearances, or to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes", Amnesty says.

Three years after the 11 September attacks, Amnesty paints a picture of governments around the world using "security" as an excuse to authorise killings and torture, introduce repressive legistlation and exploit people's fears and prejudices. These regimes, the report says, have behaved with impunity under the cloak of America's own global campaign against those it considers its enemies, and the results are instances of injustice such as the prisoners held without trial at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Hundreds of other detainees from 40 countries are also incarcerated in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"The photographs of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners is the logical consequence of the pursuit of the war on terror by the United States since 9/11," Irene Khan, the secretary general of Amnesty, said.

Britain was singled out for criticism for keeping 14 foreign nationals in jail indefinitely under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act. "Among other reasons, the UK has justified these measures on the grounds that its rules of evidence are too stringent to allow successful prosecutions," the report says. It also points out that although 572 people were arrested on suspicion of "terrorist- related" offences, just one in five have faced charges.

Britain, Spain, France, Portugal, Malta and Ireland, and Australia, a partner in the war on terror, are also censured for tough policies on asylum-seekers.

And while international focus has been on the Iraq war, the report says, attention has been diverted from other bloody conflicts and human rights abuses in Chechnya, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Nepal, which remain "a breeding ground for some of the worst activities".

The report concludes: "The current framework of international law and multilateral action is undergoing the most sustained attack since half a century ago. Human rights and humanitarian law is being directly challenged ... In the name of the 'war on terror', governments are eroding human rights principles, standards and values."

The report was criticised last night by Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman. "The war on terrorism has protected the human rights of some 25 million people in Afghanistan, and 25 million in Iraq," he said. "The war on terror has led to the liberation of some 50 million people in those countries."