U.S. Human Rights Report Points to U.S. Allies

The U.S. State Department has released its annual report on human rights, detailing cases of abuse and repression in countries such as Afghanistan and Zimbabwe. The report also describes torture in Egypt and Jordan. Amnesty International criticizes the U.S. for "outsourcing torture" in the war on terrorism to countries like Egypt.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The State Department has released its annual report on human rights around the world. The report describes torture in Egypt and Jordan, two countries where the U.S. has sent terrorism suspects for interrogation. Critics of the report say it also excuses abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan.

NPR's Corey Flintoff has more.

COREY FLINTOFF, reporting:

Human Rights groups say the report has some crucial gaps, one being that it's overly optimistic.

ERIC OLSON (Amnesty International): For instance, the report is quite rosy about substantial progress in Iraq in terms of their democratic practices and freedoms. Any objective analysis of what's going on in Iraq would say that, boy it's difficult to see progress.

FLINTOFF: Eric Olson works for Amnesty International, which issued a report this week saying that thousands of Iraqis are being arbitrarily detained.

Mr. OLSON: They're being detained long periods of time where there's clear evidence of ongoing torture, so it's very difficult to be very optimistic about that human rights situation in Iraq, when that kind of activity's going on.

FLINTOFF: Assistant Secretary of State Barry Lowenkron disputes that.

Mr. BARRY LOWENKRON (Assistant Secretary of State): We do not hold these countries to lower standards. What we do, and what you will find on the reports on Afghanistan, and on Iraq, is an assessment of the impact of the deadly insurgency on the ability to build and sustain and nurture democratic institutions and practices.

FLINTOFF: Amnesty International's Eric Olson says the report also ignores cases of what he describes as indirect torture.

Mr. OLSON: Despite the fact that the U.S. has agreed not to send people to countries where they're more likely than not to be tortured, there are numerous cases in which the U.S. has done exactly that, taken people detained in a third country, say Pakistan--and transferred them to Egypt or Syria--where then they are tortured.

FLINTOFF: In the section on Egypt, the report does, in fact, site what it says are numerous, credible reports that security forces tortured and mistreated prisoners and detainees, including beatings, electric shots, hanging from the ceiling, and sexual assault. The State Department's Barry Lowenkron rejected the suggestion that uncooperative were deliberately sent to countries that violate human rights.

Mr. LOWENKRON: Let me be clear: we do not send detainees to countries if we believe that they will be subjected to torture.

FLINTOFF: Amnesty International's Eric Olson says the practice of sending prisoners oversees, known as rendition, is reported to be ongoing in a system of covert detention facilities, so-called black sites, where dozens of prisoners may be held without the knowledge of the International Red Cross.

Mr. OLSON: There's reports that they exist in Jordan, that they've existed in Pakistan, that they exist in parts of Eastern Europe, and that they exist even in places in Asia. So, if one were to take the human rights reports seriously, one would look there, in those countries, and say, okay, these are countries where we should not be sending detainees. And yet, unfortunately, that seems to be happening.

FLINTOFF: When she introduced the report, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says it reflects an American obligation.

Secretary of State CONDOLEEZZA RICE: The duty to defend human rights and to help spread democracy's blessings is especially great for the United States and other free nations.

FLINTOFF: Assistant Secretary Barry Lowenkron dismissed suggestions that the U.S. has suffered a loss of moral authority because of abuse of detainees, and he said it hasn't stopped him from raising human rights concerns with the countries listed in the report.

Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Washington.

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