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Countries cite U.S. to deflect criticism on jails, official says

From Reuters

Some countries try to rebut criticism of how they treat prisoners by saying they are only following the U.S. example on handling terrorism suspects, a U.N. human rights expert said Monday.

Manfred Nowak, the United Nations investigator on torture, told a news conference that “all too frequently” governments responded to criticism about their jails by saying they handled detainees the same way the United States did.

“The United States has been the pioneer of human rights and is a country that has a high reputation in the world,” Nowak said. “Today, other governments are kind of saying, ‘But why are you criticizing us; we are not doing something different than what the United States is doing.’ ”

He said nations such as Jordan tell him, “We are collaborating with the United States, so it can’t be wrong if it is also done by the United States.”

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No nation other than Jordan was specified.

Nowak, along with other U.N. human rights officials, has criticized U.S. policies on the handling of terrorism suspects, including secret jails, harsh treatment and the lack of due process. He turned down a visit to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, because he could not interview detainees and prison officials in private.

He has argued that if there is evidence against detainees who have spent years in jail, it should be presented to civilian courts rather than military tribunals.

Nowak, an Austrian law professor, said a U.S. law adopted this month, which outlawed rape and most forms of torture, still allowed harsh interrogation methods that rights advocates say border on torture. And it does not permit appeals in federal court.

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