Human rights campaigners voice disappointment with Obama

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Human rights campaigners on Thursday expressed disappointment at the Obama administration, saying it had failed to lived up to its promise of remedying torture and abuse in Iraq and in counter-terrorism operations.

Speaking before the United States faces its first public review by the 47 member UN Human Rights Council on Friday, representatives of US and international groups said it had failed to bring accountability for violations under the previous administration.

"Many of us would have been much happier two years ago, we expected very much deeper change. The momentum has been lost," said Gerald Staberock of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ).

Staberock said impunity over allegations of torture in Iraq and interrogations of terror suspects, continued trials by military commissions, detentions and targeted killings by drones in Afghanistan amounted to "a grim picture on accountability."

"Not only is justice not being done, it is also prevented from being done."

Staberock and Jamal Dakwar, a director at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), praised President Barack Obama's swift orders in January 2009 to close Guantanamo Bay and on interrogation methods, as well as a shift away from "aggressive rhetoric on human rights."

"We all thought that was a terrific beginning," commented Dakwar.

"However, we are now seeing that this administration is becoming an obstacle to achieving accountability in human rights," he said on the sidelines of Council session.

Dakwar said that US government lawyers were defending the stance of Bush administration officials in court, and seeking to "extinguish" civil lawsuits brought by torture victims with the ACLU.

"Until today not a single victim of torture has had their day in a US court. This is very sad," Dakwar added.

Devon Chaffee of Human Rights First said Washington was still leaving the door open for further abuse and undermining its international credibility as a critic of torture elsewhere.

Federal investigations by US Attorney General Eric Holder had failed to materialise so far while the few prosecutions "have been at a very low level," she argued.

"It's clear that an investigation that only goes after the foot soldiers will not be seen as credible."

© 2010 AFP

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