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Report hits US on human rights

Says terror fight has global impact

LONDON -- In its fight against terrorism, the United States has eroded rights worldwide, Amnesty International said yesterday.

In its annual report, the London-based rights group said politicians around the world -- from Australia to Sudan -- were taking advantage of shortsighted US leadership in a fight against global terrorism that had sacrificed individual liberties.

"One of the biggest blows to human rights has been the attempt of Western democratic states to roll back some fundamental principles of human rights -- like the prohibition of torture," Amnesty's Secretary General Irene Khan said before the report's launch. She also criticized the US policy of extraordinary rendition.

While Amnesty International has highlighted rights issues that have erupted since the deadly Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States, little of the 337-page report dealt with the terrorist threat itself or attacks linked to the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Amnesty's time would have been better spent on helping the Iraqi government deal with past rights abuses.

"It's pretty clear that Amnesty International thought that we'd make a convenient ideological punching bag," Casey said.

Last year's Amnesty report offered similar criticism of the United States, saying the country's pursuit of security had undermined human rights.

America's unique position on the world stage justified the criticism, Khan said.

"If we focus on the US it's because we believe that the US is a country whose enormous influence and power has to be used constructively," she said. "When countries like the US are seen to undermine or ignore human rights, it sends a very powerful message to others."

The report noted that a new Army Field Manual -- which bans the use of dogs, hooding and sexual humiliation in interrogations -- did not apply to CIA-run detention facilities.

European countries were accused of failing to challenge the US military putting terror suspects on secret flights to third countries for interrogations. Britain, Australia and Japan were singled out for passing harsh new antiterror laws.

Russia's authoritarian drift also attracted Amnesty's attention.

Journalists, human rights defenders, and others had been devastated by a government crackdown on civil society, the report said .

The report said the government was intensifying its pressure on the independent media and was turning a blind eye to the growing number of hate crimes targeting foreigners, immigrants and sexual minorities.