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US Will Continue to Address Global Human Rights - 2004-05-17

Secretary of State Colin Powell promises the United States will "do the right thing" in dealing with the scandal over the mistreatment of detainees at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. The State Department, meanwhile, said the affair will not make U.S. officials reluctant to address global human-rights concerns.

Mr. Powell is conceding that the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal, with its graphic photos of misconduct by U.S. service personnel, has had a "terrible impact" on the United States' image around the world.

But he says the international community is now beginning to see how a democratic country can deal with what he termed "a period of deep disappointment," and what it will do to, as he put it, "right this kind of wrong."

In a commencement address at North Carolina's Wake Forest University, Mr. Powell urged graduating students to strive to "do the right thing" in all their personal and professional dealings, regardless of the consequences.

He paid tribute to the U.S. enlisted man, Joseph Darby, who first exposed the prisoner abuse, and he said he told Arab and other officials on his weekend trip to Jordan that because Specialist Darby had come forward, they will see justice done:

"One soldier had done the right thing," he said. "He knew something wrong was happening. And he spoke out. He told his commanders, who immediately began an investigation. I also told them that in their disappointment about America right now, watch America. Watch how we deal with this. Watch how America will do the right thing. Watch what a nation of values and character, a nation that believes in justice does to right this kind of wrong. Watch how a nation such as ours will not tolerate such actions."

Mr. Powell spoke as the State Department was releasing a report on U.S. support for human rights and democracy world-wide, a companion to its annual country-by-country report on human rights practices that was issued last month. Administration officials acknowledged they delayed release of the document from earlier this month because of the furor over the Abu Ghraib revelations.

The State Department's top human-rights official, Assistant Secretary Lorne Craner described the Abu Ghraib affair as a "cloud" that has been obscuring what the United States has been trying to do on human rights.

But he said he said U.S. officials are determined to "punch through" the cloud and will not give up on the promotion of democracy and human rights.

Mr. Craner said that along with the abundant international criticism of what went on at the prison, there already is evidence that that the U.S. government's strong and transparent response to the abuses is becoming a source of admiration to many people abroad.

"What we are hearing from people overseas is that we think Abu Ghraib is an awful thing, and we think it shows that the United States is imperfect," he said. "But we still want you to help us. There were postings on Chinese web-sites for example over the weekend talking about how Chinese posters on these web-sites are watching what is going on in the United States. Some of them said it is interesting that leaders in a democracy apologize for things that have happened, for things that have gone wrong in their country. Others said it is very interesting that in America, the press is free to report on abuses and torture that are committed by security forces."

The 270-page State Department report, written before the prison scandal erupted, describes steps the United States and U.S. funded organizations have taken in Iraq to overcome the country's "extremely poor" human-rights situation under Saddam Hussein.

These include creation of an Iraqi human-rights ministry, training for judicial and law enforcement officials, support for documenting past abuses, and laying groundwork for the prosecution of rights violators including the jailed former Iraqi ruler himself.