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Amnesty: U.S. 2-Faced On Torture

The United States publicly condemns the abuse of prisoners even while engaging in it behind closed doors, Amnesty International said Wednesday in a report urging an independent investigation into the issue.

"In the war on terror, the U.S.A. has not practiced what it has preached on the treatment of prisoners," said Rob Freer, lead author of the 200-page report tracing U.S. abuses in Afghanistan, at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

He said the study was being released six months after the Abu Ghraib photos were first revealed — showing naked prisoners piled on top of each other, being threatened with dogs or forced to wear leashes — to try to ensure that this scandal and the issue of torture does not fall off the U.S. political agenda.

Freer denied that the London-based human rights group was trying to influence the election by releasing the report less than a week before Americans vote for president, and it does not care who wins.

"All we are raising are human rights issues, and whoever wins the election, we will be working to try and persuade that new administration to stop any practices that facilitate torture and also to commit themselves to a commission of inquiry," Freer told The Associated Press.

He said U.S. military investigations of prisoner abuse "have really only gone to a certain level" and it remains unknown how high up blame for the scandal should go in the U.S. military chain of command.

"There are little pieces of information but the full picture is not available. And that is why we need a full, independent inquiry," Freer said.

The Pentagon on Wednesday refused to comment on the Amnesty report.

The report said it called in May for an independent investigation, perhaps by the U.S. Congress. It urged that a commission with subpoena powers and full access to secret information and agencies conduct the inquiry. To insure impartiality, the commission should include international experts, it said.

Short of such a full investigation, Amnesty International urged the U.S. government to unequivocally condemn torture and ban it by legislation, ensure access to prisoners, abolish secret detentions, ratify relevant international treaties and pay reparations to victims.

Amnesty said military investigations have shown that alleged U.S. abuses have not been confined either to Abu Ghraib or to a few soldiers.

"(Yet) there remains a need for a full commission of inquiry that takes a genuinely comprehensive and independent look at the U.S.A.'s 'war on terror' detention and interrogation policies and procedures, and examines the activities of all government agencies and all levels of government," the report said. "Full accountability is crucial."

Three U.S. soldiers have been sentenced to prison terms of between eight months and eight years for abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Two more soldiers are due to stand trial early next year.

The highest-ranking soldier indicted so far is Staff Sgt. Ivan "Chip" Frederick, who received the eight-year sentence. No senior officers have been charged, although several have received letters of reprimand or were relieved of command.

In September, eight former generals and admirals wrote "there are now dozens of well-documented allegations of torture, abuse and otherwise questionable detention practices" in prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, and they urged that President Bush appoint an independent commission to investigate.

In a report that drew heavily on investigations already undertaken by U.S. authorities, Amnesty International accused the United States of tolerating abuses of prisoners in its war on terror and falling short of the standards it routinely applies in criticizing other governments.

"The photographs of torture and ill-treatment of detainees in Abu Ghraib prison did not come out of the blue, but followed numerous allegations of abuse in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay raised with the U.S. authorities over the previous two years," Amnesty International said.

"When it suited the U.S. government's aims in its buildup to the invasion of Iraq, the administration cited Amnesty International's reports on torture in that country. When the alleged abuse involved U.S. agents, its response was denial and disregard for the organization's concerns," the report said.

Since the photographs depicting abuse at Abu Ghraib surfaced, attorneys for the accused soldiers have claimed higher-ranking officers were involved. Much of the investigative work has focused on the question of whether intelligence officers, Pentagon officials or their policies were to blame.

One Army investigation found that twenty-seven members of an intelligence unit at Abu Ghraib either requested or condoned certain abuses of Iraqi prisoners there. Another eight, including two contractors, knew of abuse and failed to report it, the report said.

A separate report found that inattention to prisoner issues by senior U.S. military leaders in Iraq and at the Pentagon was a key factor in the abuse scandal, but there is no evidence they ordered any mistreatment.

The four-member commission appointed by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and headed by former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger directly blamed the events at Abu Ghraib on the soldiers there and their immediate commanders.

It also said senior commanders and top-level Pentagon officials, including Rumsfeld, can be faulted for failed leadership and oversight.

Schlesinger's review criticizes senior leaders for not focusing on issues stemming from the detention of large numbers of prisoners in Iraq. This lack of attention and resources contributed to the chaotic conditions at Abu Ghraib, the report said.

In particular, war planners at the Joint Chiefs of Staff did not expect a widespread anti-U.S. insurgency or the breakdown of civil order in postwar Iraq, so they did not plan or provide resources for the operation of a large American-run prison system, commissioners said.