U.N. human rights investigators on Tuesday announced a global investigation into secret detention and said they would not relax scrutiny of U.S. counter-terrorism policies under President Barack Obama.
The probe will look at CIA 'rendition' flights that secretly transferred suspects for interrogation, mainly in North Africa and the Middle East, but will also investigate countries' use of torture in secret prisons anywhere in the world.
We will not let the United States off the hook simply because of the change in administration, said Martin Scheinin, U.N. special rapporteur on protecting human rights while countering terrorism.
It is certainly too early to say that rendition will have stopped, he told reporters.
Under President George W. Bush, the United States confirmed it had used rendition to apprehend terrorism suspects around the world and deliver them for interrogation in third countries. It also acknowledged that the CIA had run secret interrogation centers abroad, but denied employing torture.
In a break with the previous administration, Obama has issued orders to close the Guantanamo Bay prison on Cuba and ensure interrogations adhere to the Geneva Conventions, guaranteeing humane treatment.
We can at least hope this is a real change that will put an end to the most horrendous forms of extraordinary renditions, Scheinin said.
He said he hoped the Obama administration's policy would at least mean suspects abducted by U.S. agents are tried in America. But he stressed that international law says countries should seek extraditions through proper legal channels.
Mark Storella, head of the U.S. delegation, reminded the Council that Obama had pledged the United States would confront terrorism in a manner consistent with our values and ideals.
Manfred Nowak, the U.N. torture envoy, said the Bush administration had transferred prisoners to countries known for torture practices in cases where enhanced interrogation techniques used by the CIA at Guantanamo Bay and other detention centers had not succeeded in extracting information.
I am very confident that this practice will stop, he said.
But executive orders issued by Obama on his second day in office were not totally satisfactory, as they still reflected a war paradigm, according to Nowak, an Austrian law professor.
We are not in a war, he added.
Earlier, Scheinin, in an annual report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, urged U.S. allies from Britain to Pakistan to investigate whether they helped in secret renditions.
He cited credible reports that the United States sent suspects for interrogation at covert detention centers in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, as well as CIA-run black sites through at least May 2007. Many cases of torture were reported.
Australian, British and United States intelligence personnel have themselves interviewed detainees who were held incommunicado by the Pakistani ISI in so-called safe houses, where they were being tortured, he said, referring to Pakistan's spy agency.
Scheinin later told reporters that such wrongful acts violated international law.
The system, put in place by the Bush administration following the September 11 2001 attacks in the United States, had reflected a dark page in U.S. history, he said. But it was only possible through collaboration from many other states.
Now that the witch hunt is hopefully over, it is time for the law to step in, Scheinin told the Council.