The Associated Press
A U.N. expert on Friday criticized U.S. counterterrorism laws, expressed concern over the use of military commissions to try civilians, and said there was evidence the CIA had violated international human rights law.
But Martin Scheinin, the U.N.’s investigator on human rights in the fight against terrorism, dismissed “the perception that the United States has become an enemy of human rights.”
A spokesperson at the U.S. mission in Geneva, who would only speak on condition of anonymity, expressed disappointment at the report and said Scheinin had reiterated unfair and oversimplified criticisms of the United States.
The spokesperson said the 6,000-word preliminary report had missed the opportunity to deepen discussion among democratic nations of how best to deal with the threat posed by armed terrorist groups, and expressed hope that a final report would be more balanced.
Scheinin, an independent legal expert from Finland appointed by the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council, has previously criticized the U.S. for terrorist profiling based on national or ethnic origin, or religion as “unfounded stereotyping.”
In his latest report, which was written after meetings with U.S. diplomats and justice and security officials, he said it was “regretful that a number of important mechanisms for the protection of rights have been removed or obfuscated under law and practice since the events of September 11.”
Scheinin singled out the USA PATRIOT Act, the Detainee Treatment Act, the Military Commissions Act, as well as presidential Executive Orders and classified programs for criticism.
“Various aspects relating to the jurisdiction and operation of military commissions raise significant human rights concerns, including the jurisdiction and composition of military commissions, the potential use of evidence obtained by coercion, and the potential for the imposition of the death penalty,” he said.
But the U.S. spokesperson in Geneva said military commissions were structured in a way that provides for fair trials.
At U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad also said the United States took a very different view.
“We are doing this under U.S. laws and procedures and legitimate decision-making authorities that exist in the United States. We are a rule of law country and our decisions are based on rule of law,” Khalilzad said.
Scheinin expressed concern that obtaining information from terrorism suspects using “enhanced interrogation techniques” amounted to a form of torture, or inhuman or degrading treatment, which is illegal under international law.
He said evidence from multiple sources and a lack of cooperation from CIA officials he met led him to conclude that the intelligence agency had used and continued to use such practices, including exposing prisoners to stress positions, extreme temperature changes, sleep deprivation, and “waterboarding,” in which a detainee is made to believe he is drowning.
U.S. government officials say the questioning has provided critical intelligence information about terrorist activities that has prevented attacks, including with airplanes, within the United States.
Scheinin said his visit also supported the suspicion that the CIA has flown terrorism suspects to countries where they could face abuse and torture under a practice known as “extraordinary rendition.”
The U.S. official in Geneva denied this allegation.
Scheinin said he saw his visit as “one step in the process of restoring the role of the United States as a positive example for respecting human rights, including in the context of the fight against terrorism.”
“It is a country which still has a great deal to be proud of,” he said.
Scheinin will present a final report outlining his findings to the 47-nation Human Rights Council at a later date, possibly at its 6th session in September.
The Geneva-based body replaced the discredited U.N. Human Rights Commission last year, but has itself been accused by some countries — including the United States — of being biased and politicized in its work.
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