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UN Human Rights Council Postpones Discussion of 'Secret Detentions' Report


The U.N. Human Rights council has postponed discussion of a highly critical report on the secret detention of terror suspects in dozens of countries. One of the report's authors tells VOA that government officials in the United States and elsewhere who ordered secret detentions of terror suspects should face prosecution and imprisonment.

The 222-page report names dozens of countries involved in the practice of detaining people or taking advantage of their detention by other countries to elicit information from them. The suspects were held in secret, without access to lawyers or the International Red Cross, and were subjected to interrogation techniques that in many cases, the authors say, amount to torture.

The report's strong criticisms have angered many of the countries on the Geneva-based Human Rights Council who said they are untrue. Others, including the Muslim and African members, say the experts had no mandate to write the report and that it should not be considered by the HRC. Some Western countries, including the United States and Britain, disagree with the report's findings, but are willing for the discussion to go forward.

The council was supposed to hear the final report this week, but instead agreed to postpone it until June.

But one of the study's authors, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak, is speaking out. He says government officials in the United States and elsewhere who ordered secret detentions of terror suspects should face prosecution. "Every individual case of an enforced disappearance and torture should be a crime under domestic law, with proper sanctions. And proper sanctions doesn't mean a fine; it means imprisonment for similar to other major crimes like homicide," he said.

Nowak adds that people who have been secretly detained should be entitled to compensation. "For me, providing reparations to the victims is certainly as important as the criminal investigations and bringing the main perpetrators to justice," he said.

The study on the use of secret detention was written by Nowak and Martin Scheinin, who is the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism. They were joined by representatives of the U.N. Working Groups on Arbitrary Detention, and Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.

In the study, the United States and the administration of former President George W. Bush received some of the harshest criticism for the use of secret detention after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The main focus [of the report] is on the United States of America, because they have developed a very sophisticated program of extraordinary rendition flights where persons have been kidnapped who were suspected of terrorism and flown around the world to different countries for the purpose of keeping them in secret places, for getting information about future terrorist attacks," Nowak said.

John Bolton was President Bush's Ambassador to the United Nations from August 2005 through 2006. He said the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were an act of war on the United States and, therefore, Washington was entitled to respond in self-defense.

"People say [that] we are torturing these 'poor terrorists' we have picked up. It implies we are putting them on the rack, we are pulling out their fingernails, we are using cattle prods -- none of that is true. None of that has any basis in fact. This is all a question of whether we can out-psyche the terrorists, using techniques that were analyzed by highly-competent lawyers, and which were used in a very limited number of cases and which, by all accounts, did produce useful information," he said.

Shortly after taking office the Obama administration adopted measures intended to treat prisoners more humanely and transparently. The authors of the U.N. report have cautiously welcomed those commitments.

Human rights groups say the report will not lead to prosecutions, but that it will shine a light on illegal practices governments try to keep hidden. They say exposing that can lead to change.

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