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Irene Kahn is the secretary general of Amnesty International, the global human rights organization. She spoke from London with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels on May 4.

By Irene Kahn

NATHAN GARDELS: The U.S. military's internal investigation cites the "wanton and sadistic abuse" of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. Amnesty International (AI) goes further and says that it sees a "systematic pattern of torture" on the part of U.S. forces in Iraq. On what basis does AI make this charge?

IRENE KAHN: We have been doing research on Iraq for a year. Between April and July of last year we came across a number of allegations of torture at Abu Ghraib prison, and at that time Camp Cropper, which has since been closed.

We obtained this information through multiple interviews of people who had been detained at these two facilities. Our interviews showed a consistent pattern of sleep deprivation, humiliation and the kind of ill treatment shown in the recently published photographs. Clearly, these were not isolated incidents.

I wrote to Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, in July of last year to draw his attention to these allegations of torture. We were told that the U.S. military had looked at these cases, and there was nothing to them.

This does not engender much confidence in the command and the investigation at present. It is a shame that only now, when the pictures have been published, that action is being taken.

This shows a disregard for ensuring that U.S. troops follow international law.

GARDELS: The United States has called this "abuse"; you call it torture. What is the difference?

KAHN: We use the word torture as defined by international human rights law --beatings, sleep deprivation, exposure to bright light, holding people up, prolonged and painful restraint and so on.

GARDELS: Though this is still an unraveling story, the relevant U.S. commanders have so far received only a "reprimand" for what has happened. Is that enough for what you consider the crime of torture?

KAHN: We think there should be a full, proper -- and independent -- investigation on what U.S. forces have done to prisoners in Iraq so that if criminal charges need to be brought they can be brought. Under international law the first responsibility for an investigation and trial is with the responsible government itself, in this case the United States. But the investigation must be independent. It can't be, as it is now, the military looking into its own situation.

GARDELS: Is there a U.N. role in such an investigation?

KAHN: There could be a U.N. role. There is a U.N. special rapporteur on torture. But our view is that the U.S. authorities could also open an independent criminal investigation.

GARDELS: Had the United States become a signatory to the International Criminal Court (ICC), would its jurisdiction extend to this matter? Does it have any role here?

KAHN: If the United States were a party to the ICC, the requirement would have been that the U.S. government first engage in its own investigation. Only if it failed to do so would the ICC intervene. The court doesn't step in first; there is an expectation that signatories take their own action. The ICC is a court of last resort.

In fact, even now, if these are war crimes, there is an obligation under international law for the United States to prosecute the perpetrators in its judicial system, regardless of membership in the ICC.

There are, as you know, allegations against British forces -- also documented in our reports. The British government has said it will investigate these cases. If it were to fail to do so, then the ICC could look into it.

(c) 2004, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release (Distributed 5/4/04)