SYDNEY, Australia (AP) – Critics from around the world on Thursday dismissed U.S. President George W. Bush’s defense of using secret CIA prisons overseas to detain terrorist suspects as tacit approval of torture, and demanded they be shut down immediately.
They said Bush’s acknowledgment of the program and justification of tough interrogation measures vindicated the worst fears that Washington had gone way too far in the pursuit of its war on terror.
Bush got strong support from Australia, a staunch supporter of Bush’s methods from the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq to long detentions without trial of terrorist suspects.
But the majority of those who responded Thursday to Bush’s speech confirming the existence of the secret prisons were critical.
“President Bush’s speech was a full-throated defense of the CIA’s detention program,” Kenneth Roth, executive director of New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement. “Although the president adamantly denied that the U.S. government uses torture, the United States has used practices such as waterboarding that can only be called torture.”
Lawmakers at the European Parliament, meanwhile, demanded the U.S. give the locations of the secret detention facilities.
Bush acknowledged for the first time Wednesday night that a small number of detainees had been held in secret CIA prisons overseas, and he defended the program by saying it forced terrorist leaders to reveal plots to attack the United States and its allies.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said information from one secret prison detainee had led to the arrest of Riduan Isamuddin, a key leader of Southeast Asian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, as well as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, al-Qaida’s alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.
“A great deal has been achieved through these kinds of programs,” Downer told Parliament.
But Muslim politicians and activists decried Bush’s secret prison program and the types of interrogation techniques used on detainees.
Asma Jehangir, a senior member of Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission, demanded Washington end the program immediately and apologize for ever bringing it into existence. “They have to admit that what they did was wrong,” said Jehangir, who heads a U.N. panel that recently issued a scathing report about the detention of suspects at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. “They cannot justify it in the name of terrorism and frightening people.” She noted that Bush had said in his speech that militants were trained to resist interrogation. “It doesn’t mean that you can lower the threshold and start torturing them,” she said.
Bush said that interrogation techniques used were tough, but did not constitute torture. He also said the secret prison program would continue because it is “one of the most vital tools in our war against the terrorists.”
China criticized the secret prisons. “China advocates … that anti-terror efforts should observe the principal of the U.N. charter and the basic norms governing international relations,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters.
Desra Percaya, a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Indonesia, home to more Muslims than any other country, said, “The way we see it, there has to be a respect for human rights and international law even in the context of fighting terrorism,” and that Washington had violated both.
In Europe, the head of a European investigation into alleged CIA prisons in Europe said he believed the timing of Bush’s disclosure was politically motivated. “It probably has to do with the fact that the elections are coming up in the United States,” said Swiss senator Dick Marty.
Marty said Bush’s speech was “just one piece of the truth,” without elaborating. “There is more, much more to be revealed,” he added.
Marty said in July that evidence suggests planes linked to the CIA carrying terror suspects stopped in Romania and Poland and likely dropped off detainees there, backing up earlier news reports that identified the two countries as possible sites of clandestine detention centers. His report said European governments failed to fully cooperate to establish the facts.
“The location of these prison camps must be made public,” said Wolfgang Kreissl-Doerfler, who sits on a special EU assembly committee investigating the secret prisons. “We need to know if there has been any complicity in illegal acts by governments of EU countries or states seeking EU membership.”
Some activists and defense attorneys said Bush’s acknowledgment illustrated progress on the administration’s part.
“President Bush has finally realized that American values are the way to win the war on terror, the values of true openness, a commitment to having fair trials and not allowing the torture of detainees,” said lawyer Zachary Katznelson, who represents 36 Guantanamo detainees.
Manfred Nowak, the U.N. special investigator on torture, said the transfer of 14 detainees from clandestine centers to Guantanamo Bay was “an improvement,” but warned that “of course there are many others.” Nowak, who reports to the U.N. Human Rights Council, the global body’s top right watchdog, has said the use of secret prisons violate anti-torture commitments under international law because keeping detainees in such places is a form of enforced disappearance.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy repeated France’s call for the United States to close the Guantanamo detention center. “The situation of the Guantanamo detainees, who are held in a derogatory status, must finally be resolved so as to not prolong the embarrassment of this state of affairs,” he said.
Ahmad Nader Nadery, spokesman for the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, which has sought to gain access to the U.S. military’s prison in Afghanistan where an estimated 500 “illegal combatants” are held, also welcomed the new guidelines. “We have been looking for an improvement in the treatment of detainees in Guantanamo and Bagram and any improvement in that direction would be welcomed. It will build more confidence in the war on terror,” he said.