Friday, May 29, 2009

Amnesty calls Obama's anti-terror record 'mixed'

Amnesty calls Obama's anti-terror record 'mixed'

WASHINGTON (AFP) — US President Barack Obama's record on changing the counter-terror policies of his predecessor has been "mixed," said a report by international human rights watchdog Amnesty International.

"On counter-terrorism detention policies ... the record of the new administration has been mixed," the rights group said in its annual report to be released on Thursday.

Highlighting the "widespread expectation of change" brought by Obama's swearing-in in January following eight years of George W. Bush's presidency, Amnesty said "early promise and initial important steps to redress violations have been followed by limited action."

The rights group pointed to positives such as Obama's declaration in January that he would end policies called "enhanced interrogation" techniques by the Bush administration, which critics say amount to torture of detainees, as well as his pledge to close the prison camp on the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

But Amnesty lamented the Obama administration's "limited action towards ensuring detentions are brought into line with the USA?s international obligations," and said that "a lack of accountability and remedy for past human rights violations remains entrenched."

Among the faults listed by Amnesty were the Obama's administration's decision in February to invoke the "'state secrets privilege' to seek dismissal of a lawsuit brought by victims of the CIA's rendition program, as the Bush administration had done previously," it said.

Amnesty also deplored a US federal judge ruling in April that said a trio of detainees held at the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan could challenge the lawfulness of their detention in a US court, a decision which the administration has appealed.

In addition, the report noted that Canada has ordered one of its citizens repatriated from US custody in Guantanamo -- Omar Khadr who was 15 when he was arrested in Afghanistan for allegedly throwing a grenade that killed a US soldier.

Amnesty however hailed Obama's declaration that he would close the "war-on-terror" prison in Guantanamo Bay within a year; end the CIA's use of secret detention and "enhanced" interrogation; and review detention, interrogation and detainee transfer policies.

It also noted that United States had joined the UN Human Rights Council, a body shunned by the previous US administration for harboring notorious rights violators.

More generally, Amnesty highlighted that the use of the death penalty "continues to be marked by discrimination, particularly in relation to the race of the murder victim. African Americans continue to be disproportionately represented on death row."

Of the 24 convicts put to death between January and May 1, 14 were killed in the state of Texas, which far surpasses other US states on a yearly basis in the number of executions.

Electroshock stun-guns known as "tasers" have also contributed to a rising number of deaths in the United States, Amnesty said, citing the deaths of a 17-year-old and 15-year-old boy.

Copyright © 2009 AFP. All rights reserved.

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