LONDON — A U.N. expert is accusing the United States and some of its allies of breaching international law for the so-called extraordinary renditions and subsequent alleged torture of terrorism suspects during the Bush administration's global war on terrorism, and is launching a probe into the detention of suspects.
Martin Scheinin, a U.N. special rapporteur and expert on international law, issued his annual report to the U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday. While it identifies a U.S. role in masterminding a "comprehensive system" of rendition and detention of suspects as well as creating "an international web" of intelligence sharing, his report notes that it was possible only through collaboration with many other countries.
Scheinin cites "consistent, credible reports" that countries involved in facilitating extraordinary renditions in various ways included Bosnia and Herzegovina, Britain, Canada, Croatia, Georgia, Indonesia, Kenya, Macedonia and Pakistan. Suspects then were transferred to "mostly unacknowledged" detention sites in Afghanistan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Jordan, Pakistan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Thailand, Uzbekistan "or to one of the CIA covert detention centers, often referred to as 'black sites,' " according to the human rights report.
Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said it was "a fairly major black mark" for any country to be targeted in such a report.
Being on the list is particularly embarrassing for the British government, which already is stinging from charges of its collusion in the alleged torture of a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay. Officials from both key opposition parties in Britain are calling for an independent judicial inquiry on the matter after detailed accusations of collusion between MI5, a British intelligence agency, and the CIA were made in recent days by Binyam Mohamed, who was held at Guantanamo Bay for more than four years. He was flown back to Britain a few weeks ago after the Foreign Office pressed the Obama administration for his release.
A spokesman for the Foreign Office said Tuesday that "there's nothing new" in Scheinin's claims of British involvement in extraordinary rendition. "When we hear of credible allegations, we'll follow them up," he added. It's the office's policy not to allow spokesmen to be named in news reports.
In a speech to the Human Rights Council, which is meeting in Geneva, Scheinin said he planned to conduct a study on the secret detention program worldwide.
"The United States has indicated that it wants to move forward and turn this dark page in its history, but in other countries this practice or permission of secret detentions — often of people who have been branded as terrorist suspects — is continuing," Scheinin said. "Before a page can be turned, we have to know what's on it, in order to move forward."
Scheinin also reportedly hopes to interview detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, when he visits the United States, although it isn't clear that he'll be granted authorization to do so.
The U.N. report expresses concern about not only active but also passive involvement by state intelligence agencies in interrogations that might have involved torture. It also critiqued the broad powers given to such agencies to collect information on citizens and "compartmentalized oversight" of intelligence services.
In Britain, Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, whose department oversees the security services, have refused requests to appear before Parliament's joint committee on human rights to discuss Britain's involvement in rendition and detention of terrorism suspects, citing an ongoing investigation by the Attorney General's Office.
The Foreign Office spokesman said that the human rights committee didn't have the authority to require Miliband's attendance. Rather, he said, Parliament's intelligence and security committee is "the appropriate parliamentary body to be looking into these issues."
Opposition politicians and human rights groups accuse the government of stonewalling.
"Accountability is not the strong point of this government, particularly on foreign policy," said Tom Porteous, the director of Human Rights Watch in London, who noted that British admissions of complicity in America's war on terrorism have emerged slowly, in bits and pieces. With top politicians calling for independent inquiries in recent days, however, "we've built up a head of steam," he added.
"The sum of it all is a very compelling case of U.K. connivance in counter-terrorism abuses," Porteus said.
(Sell is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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