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Amnesty: US A Safe Haven For Torturers - 2002-04-11

A report by the human rights group Amnesty International says as many as 1,000 people accused of torture could have come to the United States expecting to escape justice. It says none have been tried despite a U.S. law requiring prosecution of those who have committed torture anywhere in the world. The human rights group believes the United States has become a safe haven for torturers.

In a 100-page report, Amnesty International names 13 individuals living in the United States already publicly identified as having committed torture or other human rights abuses. They come from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Chile, Cuba, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, and Somalia.

"The United States has become a safe haven for torturers," said Dr. William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA. "For the U.S. government has never criminally prosecuted any of them for torture and that is outrageous and indefensible. Those who tortured and murdered in other countries should not be able to evade justice and live in the United States without fear of arrest and prosecution."

Amnesty International says more than 400,000 torture victims have come to the United States to find refuge, but some of those victims are horrified to find their alleged persecutors living free as U.S. citizens.

In one case, an Atlanta hotel worker from Ethiopia was shocked to find out a co-worker was the a prison official who had allegedly stripped her naked, hung her from a pole, and beat her because her father worked for the previous regime.

She sued and a U.S. District Court awarded the woman and two other Ethiopian victims more than $1 million in damages. But the Immigration and Naturalization Service granted that alleged torturer, Kelbassa Negewo, citizenship anyway.

The United States is a party to the International Convention Against Torture which requires governments to arrest anyone alleged to have committed torture.

But Dr. Schulz says the United States practices a double standard when it comes to torture. "Our government regularly and appropriately condemns torture abroad and firmly supports international efforts to prohibit and punish perpetrators of torture," he said. "Americans will pay dearly if our leaders fail to act against these human rights violators. By harboring those guilty of horrendous crimes, we find ourselves in the company of human rights abusing countries, such as Saudi Arabia and China."

Amnesty International is formally calling on the Bush administration to create a special Justice Department office to pursue alleged torturers similar to the office that chases down Nazi war criminals.

The Justice and State Departments have not yet responded to the report. But the Immigration and Naturalization Service has previously said it is determined not to let human rights abusers use the United States as their haven from justice.