David Mandl on Wed, 10 May 2000 18:12:52 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Amnesty International Accuses U.S. of Using Torture

               [The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition]
                                May 9, 2000

Amnesty International Accuses U.S.
Of Using Torture to Help Fight Crime

Associated Press

GENEVA -- Amnesty International criticized the U.S. on Tuesday for
increasingly brutal police measures against crime suspects, saying the use
of pepper spray and stunning devices as punishment constitute torture. 

The human rights group presented a report to the U.N. Committee Against
Torture, which meets Wednesday to consider the U.S.'s record for the first
time since Washington ratified a convention outlawing torture in 1994. 

Since then, the "increasingly punitive approach toward offenders [in the
U.S.] has continued to lead to practices which facilitate torture or other
forms of ill-treatment," Amnesty said. U.S. officials here for the session
had no immediate comment. 

In its 45-page report, London-based Amnesty cited long-term isolation for
prisoners and incarceration of asylum seekers in "cruel and degrading
conditions." It said the rising prison population contributed to
widespread ill-treatment of inmates and that police brutality is
particularly directed at racial and ethnic minorities. 

Amnesty pointed to the use of pepper spray, tear gas and electric-shock
devices and noted in particular the use of pepper spray against
demonstrators protesting at meetings of the World Trade Organization and
other events in recent months. 

It said there are reports of police officers dousing suspects with spray
as a form of "street justice" after they had already been restrained. At
the WTO protests in Seattle in November and December, protesters accused
police of swabbing pepper gel or foam into their eyes while they were in
custody, the report said. 

Amnesty also cited the use of stun belts, which are placed around a
prisoner's waist and can apply shocks. It said 100 U.S. jurisdictions have
acquired stun belts, citing one example where a prisoner was given an
electric shock in open court by order of the judge. 

"As with other international human rights treaties, the United States'
respect for the Convention Against Torture is only half-hearted when
applied to itself," it said. 

In its report to the committee made public last year, the U.S. said cases
of torture are rare but conceded that "abuses occur despite the best
precautions and the strictest prohibitions." 

It assured the panel that torture is a criminal offense in the U.S. and
that perpetrators are prosecuted and victims entitled to compensation. The
federal government also may take civil action against police misconduct
under a 1994 law. 

"Every unit of government at every level within the United States is
committed, by law as well as by policy, to the protection of the
individual's life, liberty and physical integrity,'' the report said. 

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