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26 May 2004

State's Boucher Says U.S. Respects Human Rights while Fighting Terror

Disputes findings of Amnesty International report

State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States has not lessened its concern for human rights and that the application of the rule of law is an essential part of the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

Boucher made his remarks at the May 26 State Department briefing in Washington in response to comments on Amnesty International's 2004 report which charges that the war on terrorism has damaged the rule of law and has led to human rights abuses in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The spokesman said much of the cooperation that takes place in the war on terror involves law enforcement, including information sharing, the prosecution of legal cases and punishment.

"[T]he rule of law is an essential part of the war on terrorism and part of our goals in working with many, many countries around the world has been to apply the rule of law to terrorists," he said. He added that the war has restored the rule of law to some countries where terrorists had previously been able to operate freely.

While acknowledging the abuses of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, Boucher said the United States has not "lessened in any way our concern about human rights."

"We have made clear that we believe that constructing a healthy society where rights are respected, where people enjoy freedoms and hope and opportunity is an essential part of fighting the war on terrorism," said Boucher

He added that the United States takes the Amnesty International report seriously, and looks at specific cases to ensure "we are doing what we can for the people who might be hurt by harmful practices around the world."

Following is an excerpt from the May 26 State Department briefing:

(begin excerpt)

QUESTION: Change of subject. Here in Washington, Amnesty International just released its report for 2004, and they're very highly critical of some of the humanitarian issues and a moral dilemma in that it appears the Geneva Convention has been ignored in some instances in this area in both Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

And also, is the Administration beginning to flip-flop under this criticism? Because today in Russia President Putin has also criticized Amnesty International, saying it's just a commercial venture and they're trying to just gain further funding. How do you view that?

MR. BOUCHER: President Putin doesn't speak for our Administration, so I don't know that if he changes -- if he says something that I have to describe our -- ascribe to that view. We work with Amnesty International. We listen to Amnesty International. We have close ties. We talk to them all the time, share information.

That being said, we don't necessarily agree with their views. We have recognized the abuses that took place at Abu Ghraib. There is a firm U.S. process underway to identify those responsible and to carry out punishment. There are already court martials underway; justice is being served and will be served in that matter.

Yeah.

QUESTION: You don't necessarily agree with their views, so I assume that this is one of those cases? Or is there anything in this report --

MR. BOUCHER: I haven't read the report. I mean, if they said abuses occurred at Abu Ghraib, I don't think we would disagree. We, ourselves, have put out much of that information.

QUESTION: Well, they talked about the whole war on terror as being bankrupt of vision and bereft of principle. Do you agree with that or is that just something -- a sound byte?

MR. BOUCHER: That is something we would disagree with. That's a sound byte, but a sound byte that we would disagree with. This President has enunciated a very clear vision of defending civilization, defending society, defending decency from people who want only destruction.

QUESTION: They -- what they concluded was that the war on terrorism has threatened international human rights and the recognition of the rule of law worldwide in a way that it hasn't for some time -- been threatened in 50 years. They cite examples in -- among some of our allies who they say have used the war on terrorism as an excuse to crack down on dissident political groups. Can you comment on this?

MR. BOUCHER: I would just -- I would point out two things, and because this is an argument that does come up from time to time, it's something I think we've dealt with and we've pointed out the facts repeatedly on these matters.

The first thing is that the application of the rule of law is an essential part of the war on terrorism. A lot of the cooperation that goes on to stop terrorism is law enforcement cooperation, information-sharing, provision of arrest information, prosecution of cases and the punishment of terrorists.

So the rule of law is an essential part of the war on terrorism and part of our goals in working with many, many countries around the world has been to apply the rule of law to terrorists. And I think the essential thing that we've done is to take away places in the world where the rule of law did not apply, where terrorists had freedom to run around and to plot and to plan with the connivance, support or neglect of the local government, and in many cases around the world, you can see that's no longer possible. And that's why rule of law applies.

Now, the second point is that we have made clear in our foreign policy, whether it's our human rights reports that we've put out and the briefings that we've done for you in the last week or two, or the specific conversations the Secretary has around the world, that we have not lessened in any way our concern about human rights. We have raised human rights cases and issues with the leaders of governments, including governments that are very close to us in the war on terrorism. We have made clear that we believe that constructing a healthy society where rights are respected, where people enjoy freedoms and hope and opportunity is an essential part of fighting the war on terrorism.

So on those two basic -- for those two basic reasons, I would reject the overall argument. At the same time, let me say we do take Amnesty's reports seriously. We look at what they say. We look at specific cases they raise and make sure that we are doing what we can for the people who might be hurt by harmful practices around the world.

QUESTION: To follow on that first -- on that first point. Didn't the Secretary, himself, say to the White House counsel's office in the issues about the Geneva Convention that the position would create an overall environment that would lead to diminishment of the rule of law in these situations?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not going to get into what people may have said in internal memos or internal meetings. What I'm telling you is that we have made clear through our efforts, through the efforts of the United States Government, including coordination between our Attorney General and attorney generals around the world -- attorneys general, excuse me -- around the world, or our diplomatic meetings or the day-to-day efforts of our embassies, that rule of law is an essential part of the fight on terrorism and it's important for all of us to maintain the rule of law to do that.

(end excerpt)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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