Mar. 4, 2005 – A new assessment of human rights conditions around the world issued by the US State Department acknowledges that the US-installed Iraqi government has committed numerous abuses including politically motivated killings, torture, rape and illegal detentions but stops short of criticizing the US military or former occupation authorities for similar misdeeds.
In addition to describing dozens of specific cases in Iraq during 2004, the report directly cited a recent survey by Human Rights Watch that found torture by Iraqi police to be commonplace. The State Department harshly criticized other countries, namely Iran and Syria, but also US allies Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Russia, for their poor human rights records.
"What it shows is that we donâ€™t look the other way," a senior State Department official told the International Herald Tribune, adding that the criticism of Iraq was consistent with the Bush administrationâ€™s approach to human rights.
But the much-hailed report did look away when it came to serious crimes in which Americans were involved, including the killing of unarmed Iraqi civilians, illegal detentions and the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib and other US-run facilities throughout Iraq, all of which came to light during the period covered in the report.
The State Department also ignored widespread abuses in US facilities in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which have been cited in several reports by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Red Cross, the American Civil Liberties Union and other human rights groups.
In one particularly ironic passage, the State Department cited Syria for "widespread use of torture" but failed to mention the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen whom US authorities "rendered" to Syrian authorities after detaining him at an airport. Arar says he was severely tortured for months while in Syrian custody. He was sent back to Canada last year, having been cleared of all suspicion.
Critics view such omissions as evidence of US hypocrisy regarding human rights.
"While we welcome the generally forthright and accurate reporting on human rights conditions around the world, the US government will find it increasingly difficult to be a credible and persuasive advocate for change while it persists in the same practices it rightly criticizes other governments for," said Raj Purohit, legislative director for Human Rights First was, according to Inter Press Service.
In the Iraq section of the report, the State Department described the government of US-installed Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi as marred by "corruption at all levels."
It then enumerated several instances in which Iraqi authorities violated citizensâ€™ human rights, including:
- The killings of ten members of the Baâ€™ath Party in Basra by members of an Iraqi police unit, which was also reportedly involved in the killings of a mother and daughter accused of prostitution.
- The arrest and torture of two interpreters accused of illegally using small arms, both of whom Iraqi agents bound with rope and beat with "a steel cable" in an effort to make them confess.
- The systematic raping and torturing of female detainees by police officers in Baghdad.
- The use of "excessive force" and torture by local police against both Iraqi citizens and foreigners.
- The burning and looting of houses in Fallujah by Iraqi National Guard troops.
The report did briefly mention Abu Ghraib prison, but only to note that the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights "established a permanent office" at the facility last August. The role of US military forces in managing the prison during 2003 and 2004, as well as the ongoing incarceration of Iraqis by US forces -- at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere -- were not discussed.
Also missing was an acknowledgement that interrogation tactics labeled in the report as "torture" were similar to, if not the same as, tactics used by US forces at Abu Ghraib. The definition of torture employed by the State Department to denote actions committed by other countries appears to differ significantly from the much stricter standards used by the Department of Justice to evaluate the actions of US personnel.
In the introduction to the reportâ€™s section on Iraq, the State Department praised the Allawi government for "reversing a long legacy of serious human rights abuses" under Saddam Husseinâ€™s regime, saying that the new government "generally respected human rights."
Other language in the introduction suggests that the State Department considers the numerous cases of torture and abuse to be the result of forces beyond the control Iraqi authorities. The governmentâ€™s human rights performance, the report maintains, "was handicapped by a serious insurgency in which a terrorist campaign of violence impacted every aspect of life."
The State Department report, which covered human rights conditions in nearly 200 countries except the US, is issued annually by Congressional mandate.