Amnesty International today assailed the United States' use of military contractors in Iraq as "war outsourcing" and said the behavior of some contractors had diminished America's moral standing.
"War outsourcing is creating the corporate equivalent of Guantánamo Bay — a virtual rules-free zone in which perpetrators are not likely to be held accountable for breaking the law," Larry Cox, the executive director of Amnesty International USA, said in Washington as the human rights body presented its annual report in London.
Amnesty International is a leading, private human rights group that has traditionally highlighted false imprisonment and torture.
"It is difficult to believe that the United States government, which once considered itself as an exemplar of human rights, has sacrificed its most fundamental principle by abusing prisoners as a matter of policy, by 'disappearing' detainees into a network of secret prisons and by abducting and sending people for interrogation to countries that practice torture such as Egypt, Syria and Morocco," Mr. Cox said.
"It remains the most painful of truths that its policies on torture make it possible to add the United States to a shameful list of governments that include those once led by Augusto Pinochet and Hafez al-Assad," he added, referring to the former leaders of Chile and Syria.
In London, the organization seemed to send mixed signals. In an introduction to the annual report, Irene Khan, Amnesty's director general, said there were "signs for optimism" in the global human rights picture, including in the war on terrorism.
"There were some clear signs that a turning point may be in sight after five years of backlash against human rights in the name of counterterrorism," she said. "In the past year, some of the world's most powerful governments have received an uncomfortable wake-up call about the dangers of undervaluing the human rights dimension of their actions at home and abroad."
But, in a statement as she unveiled the annual report, Ms. Khan said: "Governments collectively and individually paralyzed international institutions and squandered public resources in pursuit of narrow security interests, sacrificed principles in the name of the 'war on terror' and turned a blind eye to massive human rights violations."
"As a result, the world has paid a heavy price, in terms of erosion of fundamental principles and in the enormous damage done to the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people."
The war on terrorism, she said, "is failing and will continue to fail until human rights and human security are given precedence over narrow national security interests."
In the United States, Mr. Cox took issue principally with "the U.S. government's outsourcing of military detention, security and intelligence operations, which may be fueling serious human rights abuses. And most of those who commit these abuses seem to be getting away with it."
Of the estimated 25,000 military contractors working in Iraq, he said some "stand accused of engaging in or supporting human rights violations such as sexual abuse and torture. Some have been implicated in the Abu Ghraib scandal, and numerous news reports highlight how contractors have fired at civilians in Iraq with devastating consequences." There had been no prosecutions of contractors, he said.
"Illegal behavior of contractors and of those who designed and carried out U.S. torture policies and the reluctance of the government to bring perpetrators to justice are tarnishing the reputation of the United States, hurting the image of American troops and contributing to anti-American sentiment," Mr. Cox said.
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