America

U.S. Human Rights Record Under Scrutiny

(From L) US State Department legal advis

(From Left) US State Department legal adviser Harold Koh Assistant, Secretary at the U.S. State Department Esther Brimmer and Assistant Secretary at the US State Department Michael Posner give a press conference following the United States' first review before the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council. FABRICE COFFRINI/Getty hide caption

itoggle caption FABRICE COFFRINI/Getty

For the first time, the United States is allowing the United Nations to assess the country's record on Human Rights. The 47-member Human Rights Council has just begun a four-year process to review the performance of all 192 member states.

At the council's meeting in Geneva, today, Reuters reports the U.S. delegation received scathing criticism.

Venezuela argued that the U.S. should close its base in Guantanamo and Cuba complained about the U.S. embargo. European countries said they were concerned about the use of the death penalty and Mexico pointed to racial profiling.

The U.S. Human Rights Network, which bills itself as an umbrella organization for hundreds of others including Amnesty International, submitted a 421 page document "spotlighting the gross shortcomings in (the United States') human rights protections."

But the more interesting news, perhaps, came outside of the council meetings.

The AFP relays that some reporters caught up with Harold Koh, legal adviser at the U.S. State Department and part of the three-dozen strong U.S. delegation. They asked him about U.S. use of waterboarding:

"I think that the Obama administration defines waterboarding as torture as a matter of law under the convention against torture and as part of our legal obligation... it's not a policy choice," Koh told journalists after being asked about the report.

Asked whether the United States was still considering an investigation or federal prosecution of those who might have ordered such a practice in the past, Koh said the matter was being examined by Special Prosecutor John Durham in Connecticut.

"Those investigations are ongoing. So the question is not whether they would consider it, they're going on right now," he explained.

The statement could put former President Bush in a tough spot. The Washington Post got a preview of Bush's upcoming memoir, Decision Points, and cited a passage in which the President is asked by the CIA whether they could use waterboarding in the interrogation of one of the alleged Sept. 11 masterminds Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

According to the Post, the president answered:

"Damn right" and states that he would make the same decision again to save lives, according to someone close to Bush who has read the book.

The Bush administration refused to participate in any Human Rights Council reviews in the past, so this is an about-face for the country. Pamela Falk at CBS' Political Hotsheet has some further reading.

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