Sun, Oct 01, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Critics denounce new US anti-terrorism legislation


From Paris to Baghdad, critics on Friday denounced the US anti-terror legislation that would allow US President George W. Bush to selectively interpret parts of the Geneva Conventions and set tough ground rules for defendants at Guantanamo Bay.

The legislation, which was expected to clear a final congressional hurdle late on Friday and go to the White House for the president's signature, was condemned by human rights groups and newspapers as a violation of international law and an invitation to torture.

Criticism of the US legislation was particularly strong in Europe.

"Once again the Bush [team] has succeeded in significantly breaching the rule of law. This is to the great delight of the `Islamoterrorists' whose aim is to destroy the political system of the godless West," the Swiss daily Tribune de Geneve said in an editorial on Friday.

"Bush Junior now has tailor-made justice," it said.

Manfred Nowak, the UN's anti-torture investigator, said the bill failed to provide prisoners a fair trial and said it was particularly troubling following known abuses at US detention facilities.

"I'm very disappointed," Nowak said in Geneva. "It doesn't send the signal that we would have expected after Abu Ghraib."

While global opinion was decidedly negative, that view was by no means universal.

In Poland, a staunch Washington ally, Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrzej Sados declined to comment on the specific legislation but said that "certain extraordinary tools in fighting terrorism are acceptable."

Human rights groups were among the sharpest critics joining the chorus against the legislation.

In London, Amnesty International vowed a campaign against the legislation.

Shami Chakrabarti, director the of UK-based human rights group Liberty, said: "This unsavory political compromise will send the worst possible signal about the United States government's commitment to the rule of law."

The British Foreign Office would not comment specifically on the legislation but said it welcomed the Bush administration's decision to give the International Red Cross access to 14 important detainees, such as al-Qaeda's former No. 3 leader, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

It also reiterated Britain's view that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay should be closed.

Paris's left-leaning Le Monde newspaper attacked the bill in an editorial earlier this week, saying it would give Bush "the power to authorize the CIA to use interrogation methods that respect neither US legislation, nor international law codified by the Geneva conventions. In fact, it would be able to resort to torture. Mr. Bush is playing his usual card: to put the fear of terrorism before any thought on the means to fight it."

Proponents of the bill in the US counter that it specifically prohibits severe abuse of detainees, like mutilation and rape, and that it will grant suspects at Guantanamo Bay the right to confront the evidence against them and have a lawyer present at specially created "military commissions."

But the legislation also gives the president the power to "interpret the meaning and application" of standards for prisoner treatment, a provision intended to allow aggressive interrogation methods.

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