The world has become more dangerous, and governments more repressive, since the effort to fight terrorism began after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the US, the human rights group Amnesty International said on Wednesday.
Releasing its annual report, the group singled out the US for particular opprobrium, condemning its detention of 600 foreign nationals at Guantanamo Bay as a "human rights scandal" and calling on the government to release or charge those held there.
"What would have been unacceptable on Sept. 10, 2001, is now becoming almost the norm," Irene Khan, the secretary-general for Amnesty, told reporters.
"The great supporters of human rights during the Cold War now quite readily either roll them back in their own countries or encourage others to do so and turn a blind eye," she said.
But the report said that the problems were not confined to the US, or to Britain, which it also criticized for post-Sept. 11 anti-terrorism legislation that it said has allowed 11 foreign nationals to be interned without charge in high security prisons.
"The `war on terror,' far from making the world a safer place, has made it more dangerous by curtailing human rights, undermining the rule of international law and shielding governments from scrutiny," Khan said.
"What would have been an outrage in Western countries during the Cold War -- torture, detention without trial, truncated justice -- is readily accepted in some countries today for some people," Khan said.
In Washington, Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, denied that US was violating the Guantanamo prisoners' rights.
"I dismiss that as without merit," he said. "The prisoners in Guantanamo are being treated humanely. They're receiving medical care. They're receiving food. They're receiving far better treatment than they received in the life that they were living previously.
"These people are terrorists who still want to wreak harm and havoc on the United States and our people. They're very dangerous people"
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the US was "strongly committed" to human-rights policies at home and abroad and has "taken reasonable and legal steps to fight terrorism."
"Amnesty International's particular charges are incorrect," Boucher said at a press briefing. "There is solid, sustained international cooperation in the war on terrorism, and the war on terrorism has not detracted from our strong and steadfast commitment to human rights and democracy."
As in previous US arguments, Boucher added that Washington considers the detainees prisoners of war and is treating them according to international standards for POWs.
Both Fleischer and Boucher also argued that American leadership resulted in the freeing of millions of Iraqis from former president Saddam Hussein's regime.
However, Amnesty called Washington's practices "human rights a la carte" in which it picks which human-rights obligations it wants to fulfil and which it will reject and thereby sets a dangerous precedent for the rest of the world.
But Boucher retorted: "I think, if anything, the United States' involvement with other governments in the war on terrorism has raised the respect for human rights of the people and raised the respect for professional conduct of military forces."