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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 May, 2004, 19:05 GMT 20:05 UK
Liberties lost in terror's legal limbo
By Jon Silverman
Legal affairs analyst

That Amnesty should be sharply critical of the "war on terror" on the grounds that it abuses human rights will neither surprise nor disturb those governments prosecuting it.

Abu Ghraib
US troops lead away a detainee in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison

It said something very similar in its last annual report and at the start of this year, it produced a report which found that only two EU states fully upheld civil liberties.

But its analysis that the post 9/11 offensive has made the world a more dangerous place will reinforce the views of many politicians and officials increasingly alarmed about what is happening.

Last year, Amnesty warned that there was "a very real risk that Iraq would go the way of Afghanistan".

Few now would doubt the accuracy of that prediction.

Bush's remit

Professor Francoise Hampson, of the Human Rights Centre at Essex University, said ill-treatment of detainees and the assault on civil liberties was stimulating support for radical Islamic groups.

Stephen Jakobi, of the Fair Trials Abroad pressure group, pointed out that the 9/11 attack was used by EU member states to rush through measures, such as the European Arrest Warrant, which will increase the likelihood of wrongful detentions and miscarriages of justice.

Israeli troops in Nablus
The Israeli method of fighting terror was partly copied by the US

The US strategy on terrorism after 9/11 was partly modelled on the long-standing policy of Israel to "fight the war on the enemy's ground".

Hence, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and the many hundreds of extra-judicial detentions around the world.

Hence, too, the policy of leaving it to the courts to rule on the rights of suspects, usually months, if not years, after the alleged abuses have occurred.

In this latter respect, a crucial judgment is awaited this summer from the Supreme Court which is being asked to determine what rights Americans have when they are designated "enemy combatants" and how far President Bush's authority extends over judicial questions on issues of national security.

Saddam under scrutiny

Amnesty's chilling conclusion that, in the last year, the United Nations has been "virtually paralysed in its efforts to hold states to account "for breaching human rights" may be regarded, by some, as over pessimistic.

It is true that abuses in Chechnya, Colombia, Sudan and many other countries remain unchecked but international justice, via the tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, continues its work.

A tribunal for Sierra Leone is holding its first trial.

And, of course, around the corner lies the first of the trials in Iraq - with Saddam Hussein himself awaiting indictment.

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