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Terror War Eroding Rights

The U.S.-led "war on terror" has made the world more dangerous and left people feeling less secure, Amnesty International said Wednesday.

In its annual report, the international human rights organization said that human rights have been threatened, international laws have been undermined and governments have been shielded from scrutiny — all in the cause of fighting terrorism.

"Draconian measures by democratic as well as autocratic governments to intrude and intercept, to arrest and detain suspects without trial and to deport people with no regard to their fate, weakened human rights protection of individuals as well as respect for the standards of international law," said Irene Khan, Amnesty International's secretary-general.

"The USA continued to detain prisoners from the war in Afghanistan in defiance of international humanitarian law, turned a blind eye to reports of torture or ill-treatment of suspects by its officials and allies, and sought to undermine the International Criminal Court through bilateral agreements," Khan continued.

"In the process, it undermined its own moral authority to speak out against human rights violations in other parts of the world," she said.

The U.S. has been criticized for some of its anti-terror policies both domestically and abroad.

At home, civil libertarians have chided the Bush administration for holding two U.S. citizens as "enemy combatants," denying them access to lawyers and charging them with no crimes.

The administration has also gained far–reaching police powers that allow intelligence wiretaps to be used in criminal cases and permit federal agents to learn what books people are reading without the subjects' knowledge.

Foreigners from certain, mostly Muslim, countries have been the first forced to register at immigration offices under new laws.

Separately, more than a thousand were rounded up in the aftermath of Sept. 11. The Justice Department has attempted to close some immigration hearings to the public.

Overseas, the U.S. is accused of violating the Geneva conventions by bringing people captured in Afghanistan to the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — holding hundreds of prisoners without charge after the conflict has ended. Some fighters younger than 16 were among the detainees.

Amnesty also referenced reports of American troops killing civilians in Afghanistan.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer denied that the United States was violating the human rights of prisoners at Guantanamo.

"I dismiss that as without merit," he said. "The prisoners in Guantanamo are being treated humanely. They're receiving medical care. They're receiving food. They're receiving far better treatment than they received in the life that they were living previously."

Beyond the conduct of the United States, Khan said the campaign against terror had had an "overwhelming impact" across the globe.

While the world's attention concentrated on Iraq, there was a "heavy toll on human rights and human lives" in places including the Ivory coast, Colombia, Burundi, Chechnya and Nepal, she said.

Among the world's "hidden" crises, Amnesty counted unrest in the Congo, particularly in the central African country's eastern Ituri province, where tribal groups are locked in conflict against the backdrop of a lengthy rebellion.

The organization also cited abuses in nearby Burundi, including extra-judicial killings, disappearances and torture by the government as well as unlawful killings, abductions, torture and the recruitment of child soldiers by armed groups.

It said new security measures in Colombia, where the government has created special security zones to deal with fighting in an eastern state, had exacerbated the cycle of political violence.

Amnesty also claimed that while the human rights situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories was often talked about, it was the "least acted upon by the international community."

Amnesty also said that lack of security in Iraq since the U.S.-led coalition victory posed a threat to human rights and development.

"There is a real risk that Iraq will go the way of Afghanistan if no genuine effort is made to heed the call of the Iraqi people for law and order and full respect of human rights," she said.

The organization said that more than 18 months after the war in Afghanistan ended, millions of Afghans, including returning refugees, are still facing an uncertain and insecure future.

The White House also deflected the criticism that its focus on terrorism and Iraq came at the expense of crises in other countries.

"I think that as the world increasingly sees the brutality, the horrors that Saddam Hussein carried out against his own people," Fleischer said. "And I think the world is rejoicing in the fact that, thanks to the efforts of the coalition, millions of people who were previously imprisoned are now free."