The US told the UN on Friday that despite the abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison, it continued to oppose torture.
"The US is unequivocally opposed to the use and practice of torture," the Bush administration stated in a report to the UN Committee Against Torture, adding that "no circumstance whatsoever, including war, the threat of war, internal political stability" or any other dire situation can justify torture, the report said.
But while the US vowed to continue investigating suspected abuses at Abu Ghraib, as well as complaints about the treatment of detainees at the American naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, it fell short, in the view of critics.
Elisa Massimino, the Washington director of Human Rights First, said the report failed to address "ghost detainees," people held incommunicado by the CIA and kept isolated.
"I don't know how the US expects to explain its torture-prevention policy without mentioning its ghost-detainee problem," she said.
The report was prepared by the Departments of State, Justice, Defense and Homeland Security, and submitted to the UN committee in Geneva. That panel will review the report at its next meeting in November. Massimino predicted that the US would come under fire then. The US' initial report, in 1999, attracted relatively little attention.
But the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the intense debates over how far the US could go in rounding up and questioning suspected terrorists, changed the landscape.
Critics assert that President Bush and his top aides created an atmosphere that led to the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere and allowed high officials to escape punishment for wrongs committed by subordinates. But the report, whose thrust was reported in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, sought to dispel those suspicions.
"When allegations of abuses arise, they in all cases will be investigated and, if substantiated, prosecuted," the document said.
In addition to addressing issues related to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, the report cited numerous cases of police misconduct that have been investigated and punished in recent years.
The World Organization for Human Rights USA also said the report fell short. It condemned a practice of sending suspected terrorists to countries where they may be questioned and tortured, and said the US should issue instructions that earlier internal documents that seemed to condone torture "are repudiated and inoperable."
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