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U.S. shifts to ban cruelty to detainees abroad
U.S. shifts to ban cruelty to detainees abroad
By Saul Hudson
December 7, 2005

KIEV (Reuters) - The United States explicitly banned its interrogators around the world from treating detainees inhumanely in a policy shift made public on Wednesday under pressure from Europe and the U.S. Congress.

President George W. Bush's administration had always said U.S. personnel could not torture prisoners anywhere.

But it had previously made a distinction for less extreme tactics known as "cruel, inhumane and degrading" treatment, saying the United States only had to prevent that from occurring on U.S. territory to meet its pledges under a U.N. convention.

Human rights groups say the Central Intelligence Agency exploited that loophole to mistreat detainees abroad, for example making them feel like they were drowning.

U.S. interrogators have used such tactics in places such as Afghanistan because they could argue technically it did not amount to torture, and even though it was cruel the Bush administration allowed them to do it, the groups say.

But on a trip to Europe to defuse widespread anger over U.S. treatment of detainees, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice articulated a new legal interpretation of an international treaty that U.S. officials said resulted from a policy shift.

"As a matter of U.S. policy, the United States' obligations under the CAT (Convention against Torture), which prohibits cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment -- those obligations extend to U.S. personnel wherever they are, whether they are in the United States or outside of the United States," Rice told reporters in Ukraine.

A senior U.S. official who asked not to be named because he was discussing internal decision-making said there had long been debate within the administration about how to interpret the convention.

The administration agreed on new language several weeks ago but Wednesday was the first time a senior official had used it in public so clearly, he said.

London-based Amnesty International said Rice's remarks were "not a major concession". It still wanted serious action by Washington over what it called cases of torture in U.S. bases.

LOOPHOLE

Critics suspect the CIA of running secret prisons in eastern Europe and covertly transporting suspects around the continent. That has led to accusations U.S. tactics could lead to torture.

Rights groups have said the United States has exploited the loophole in interpreting international law to mistreat prisoners in places such as Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Rice was heading on Wednesday to Brussels where she was likely to face sharp criticism despite the defence of U.S. policy she has outlined in Washington, Berlin and Bucharest.

Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot said this week Rice's answers to the allegations had so far been unsatisfactory and he predicted a "lively discussion" when she met NATO foreign ministers on Thursday.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said it was important to know how Rice's move "is translated operationally".

"We need to know whether they are defining torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment in the way that most people have defined it for many, many years. If so, that should rule out some of the techniques that were authorised for the CIA," said Tom Malinowski, HRW's Washington advocacy director.

He singled out the interrogation technique called "waterboarding", in which the victim is made to feel he is drowning, which Malinowski said was even recognised as torture during the Spanish Inquisition.

The move announced by Rice may also be an important concession in domestic politics where Senator John McCain, a Republican and former prisoner of war who was mistreated in Vietnam, has pressed the administration to close the loophole.

Until Wednesday, the administration had resisted legislation proposed by McCain that was widely backed in Congress.

Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot said earlier this week that Rice's answers to the allegations had so far been unsatisfactory and he predicted a "lively discussion" when she met NATO foreign ministers on Thursday.

The move may also be an important concession in U.S. domestic politics where Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona and a former prisoner of war who was mistreated in Vietnam, has pressed the administration to close the loophole.

Until Wednesday, the administration, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, had resisted legislation proposed by McCain that was widely backed in Congress.

(Additional reporting by Jeremy Lovell)

© Reuters 2005. All Rights Reserved.

Commentary:
This poll driven White House sees the writing on the wall. Not even right wing nuts want the US to torture POW's. While the rest of us were appalled from day one, it took a long time for wing nuts to get it. Now that they get it (the polls verify they do) the Bush White House is in full retreat. It's about time.

Since this is a "policy shift" it means we used inhuman treatment on POW's in foreign countries. This is an impeachable offense because it violates the Geneva Conventions.