The Bush administration has "openly eroded human rights" to win the war on terrorism and sparked a backlash that has made the world more dangerous, Amnesty International charged yesterday.
"As a strategy, the war on terror is bankrupt of vision and bereft of principle," Amnesty's secretary general, Irene Khan, asserted in releasing the human rights group's annual report. She condemned militants unequivocally but said governments are "losing their moral compass."
"Sacrificing human rights in the name of security at home, turning a blind eye to abuses abroad, and using preemptive military force where and when it chooses have neither increased security nor ensured liberty," Kahn said of the United States.
Amnesty's report comes amid deepening questions about U.S. interrogation techniques and the treatment of international prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Abuses have led to criminal charges against American soldiers and a range of inquiries into what orders and understandings were given by higher-ups.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan quickly dismissed Amnesty's conclusions. "My response is that the war on terrorism has resulted in the liberation of 50 million people in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the protection of their rights," McClellan said. "People in those countries did not have the kinds of protections that we're used to in the United States, and now they do."
Amnesty researchers identified 177 violent groups that have operated in 65 countries in the past four years. More than half have killed civilians, and one in five has committed rapes or other sexual violence.
The response by governments has often been troubling and self-defeating, Amnesty officials said. Under cover of fighting "terrorists," many governments killed civilians and used torture and indefinite detention to challenge militants.
William F. Schulz, the organization's U.S. director, called it a "global street brawl, with governments and armed groups duking it out and innocent civilians suffering severely."
Among examples of repression, Amnesty pointed to China's persecution of Uighurs, Egypt's treatment of Islamists and the brutal fight by Russia to prevent Chechen independence. Spain and France drew criticism for what Amnesty called "regressive" anti-terrorist restrictions.
Amnesty challenged the Bush administration for using what it termed "indiscriminate and disproportionate means." A central argument is that the United States, long seen as a model, weakens international norms when it fails to honor the Geneva Conventions or guarantee access to lawyers and public, nonmilitary trials.
Hundreds of foreigners remained in indefinite detention without charge or trial outside the U.S. mainland, Amnesty noted. The nonprofit organization also said the United States had unlawfully killed Iraqi citizens.
State Department spokesman Richard A. Boucher questioned Amnesty's conclusions, calling Khan's comment about the U.S. anti-terrorism fight being bereft of vision "a sound bite that we would disagree with."
"This president has enunciated a very clear vision of defending civilization, defending society, defending decency from people who want only destruction," Boucher told reporters.