In its annual report, Amnesty International said politicians around the world — from Australia to Sudan — are taking advantage of shortsighted U.S. leadership in the war on terror to trample on liberties and stifle dissent.
"One of the biggest blows to human rights has been the attempt of Western democratic states to roll back some fundamental principles of human rights — like the prohibition of torture," Amnesty's Secretary-General Irene Khan told The Associated Press before the launch of her organization's annual report on the global state of human rights.
The U.S. response to Sept. 11 attacks had not reduced the threat of terrorism and was setting a destructive example to other nations, the report said.
The Bush administration's policy of extraordinary rendition — the alleged practice of secretly flying terror suspects to countries where they could be tortured — came in for particularly scathing condemnation.
"The U.S. administration's double speak has been breathtakingly shameless," the report said. "It is unrepentant about the global web of abuse it has spun in the name of counterterrorism."
America's unique position on the world stage justified the criticism, Khan said.
"If we focus on the U.S., it's because we believe that the U.S. is a country whose enormous influence and power has to be used constructively," she said. "When countries like the U.S. are seen to undermine or ignore human rights, it sends a very powerful message to others."
The U.S. Embassy in London referred questions to the U.S. State Department in Washington. State Department officials did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.
European countries were attacked for failing to challenge the U.S. rendition scheme, while U.S. allies Britain, Australia, and Japan were singled out for passing harsh new anti-terror or anti-immigration laws.
"The Howard government (in Australia) portrayed desperate asylum seekers as a threat to Australia's national security and raised a false alarm of a refugee invasion," the report said.
Russia's crackdown on journalists also attracted Amnesty's ire, as did the deteriorating human rights situation in Zimbabwe, and, above all else, the continuing violence in Darfur, which Khan called "a bleeding wound on world conscience."
"The authoritarian drift in Russia has been devastating for journalists and human rights defenders," the report said, noting the assassination of journalist Anna Politkovskaya and new laws clamping down on rights organizations.
The report also criticized China's role in shielding Sudan from U.N. action, saying that the Chinese government and companies showed little regard for their "human rights footprint" on the African continent.
But the weakened moral authority of those pushing for international intervention was also to blame, Khan said.
"In Darfur the U.S. failed to mobilize Arab and African states behind it," she said. 'That is because there is great suspicion about the U.S.' intentions now."
The report did sound some positive notes, saying that a change of the political guard in the United States and the growth of informal networks of activists were grounds for hope.
Khan compared their struggle to the fight against climate change.
"Just as global warming requires global action based on international cooperation, the human rights meltdown can only be tackled through global solidarity and respect for international law," she said.