Thursday, March 09, 2006

US records serious rights abuses in Iraq

US records serious rights abuses in Iraq
By Sue Pleming

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Three years after U.S. forces invaded Iraq in part to stop human rights violations a U.S. report said on Wednesday that the country was again racked by abuses from arbitrary killings and arrests to torture.

In its annual report detailing human rights abuses worldwide, the State Department said in 2005 reports increased of killings by the Iraqi government or its agents and members of sectarian militias dominated many police units.

The report did not list any abuses committed by the United States, which has come under strong international criticism for its treatment of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and at a U.S. Naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"A climate of extreme violence in which people were killed for political and other reasons continued (in Iraq)," the report said. "Police abuses included threats, intimidation, beatings, and suspension by the arms or legs, as well as the reported use of electric drills and cords and the application of electric shocks."

In Iraq on Wednesday, the bodies of 18 men -- bound, blindfolded and strangled -- were found in a Sunni Arab district of Baghdad, apparent victims of the sectarian turmoil gripping Iraq.

The global report also listed abuses among both allies and traditional foes, from close friends Saudi Arabia and Egypt to adversaries Iran, Syria and Zimbabwe.

Governments targeted in the report frequently point to abuses by the United States and lambaste the report as hypocritical, a criticism Washington brushes aside.

"We are not saying we ourselves are perfect. When we find something wrong in our own rights record, we try to fix it. But usually those who charge us with hypocrisy are putting up a smokescreen and trying to ignore the facts in the report," said a State Department official, who asked not to be named.


In Iraq, where more than 130,000 U.S. forces are trying to quell sectarian violence, the report said the worst abuse was carried out by police but the military was also a violator.

President George W. Bush cites abuses by ousted President Saddam Hussein and a desire to establish democracy to justify the 2003 invasion, ordered originally to confront a threat from Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, which were never found.

On July 12 last year, nine Sunni men suffocated after police locked them up for several hours in a vehicle with no air conditioning. No one was punished for the incident and officials denied intentional wrongdoing.

Some detainees in Iraqi military custody alleged abuse that included hanging inmates upside down until they lost consciousness, beating with wooden and plastic sticks, weapons and electric cords, and use of electric shocks and stun guns.

The report said "unsettled conditions" in Iraq and insurgent and terrorist attacks hampered the government's human rights performance.

The world's "most systematic" human rights violators included North Korea and Burma where the report said the promise of democratic reform served as a "facade for brutality and repression".

Iran, which the United States accuses of building a nuclear weapon, was also accused of serious abuses such as summary executions and the use of torture.

In Africa, Zimbabwe maintained a "steady assault on human dignity" and basic freedoms and the government there displaced or destroyed the livelihoods of more than 700,000 people last year.

China's human rights record was also poor with anyone who publicly challenged the government facing harassment, detention or imprisonment, the report said.