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UN expert slams US for not looking into torture claims

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GENEVA — The UN’s independent expert on torture on Wednesday criticised the Obama administration for not investigating allegations of torture made when president George W. Bush was in power.

“This is my criticism of the Obama administration: There is not enough done to remedy what has been done in the past,” Manfred Nowak, UN special rapporteur on torture, told journalists.

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“I think it’s a legal question,” he said.

“The US are a part of the UN Convention against Torture, but there are very clear legal obligations — wherever you have indications, complaints about torture, then you have to investigate them independently and effectively.”

Claims of torture and secret detention of suspects arose while the Bush administration was waging its “war on terror”.

These included extraordinary renditions, which involved abducting suspects without legal proceedings, and taking them to foreign countries or secret CIA prisons to be interrogated.

Human rights groups believe that these detainees were taken to countries where torture was practised, but the Bush administration claimed it never took a prisoner to a foreign country without first being assured that no torture would be used.

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Shortly after the change in administration in the UNited States, Nowak had renewed his call for the prosecution of US officials and military staff who might have been involved in the ill-treatment of terror detainees.

Nowak stressed that President Barack Obama and his administration had a “domestic obligation” to investigate complaints thoroughly, and to bring perpetrators to justice as well as to offer compensation to victims.

Overall, Nowak said that he had “deep respect” for Obama’s policy of change.

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“I do think that much of it has been implemented,” he said, noting that even though Guantanamo Bay prison has yet to be shut, the blame did not fall squarely on Obama’s shoulders.

“We have major obstruction from the US Congress, and he didn’t receive the support from European allies,” he added.

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Obama had vowed during the 2008 presidential campaign to close the notorious detention camp, and signed an executive order within two days of taking office.

However, the closure has been held up while the administration seeks host countries that are ready to provide refuge for some of the detainees.

Nowak said that Washington’s fight against terrorism as well as its allies’ reaction were “undermining the absolute prohibition of torture”.

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Even though Obama was changing the policy, the damage had been done and would take “many many years” to undo, he added.


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2020 Election

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This article first appeared in Salon.

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2020 Election

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