Country Report on Human Rights: America

America was notably absent from the State Department’s annual report on Human Rights. Here’s what Assistant Secretary of State Michael Kozak had to say when asked yesterday about our government’s controversial program of “extraordinary renditions”:

“There’s also our obligations under the Convention Against Torture, which is, I think the basic obligation there is you can’t turn someone over…if the likelihood, if it’s more probable than not that he will be tortured, then you can’t turn him over. I think that’s the exact legal standard. And we take that seriously.”

This would be a troubling statement — from the administration that has made “promoting human rights” the “bedrock” of its foreign policy — even if it were true (for instance, it means that if the Bush administration concludes there’s a 49 percent chance a prisoner will be abused, it sees no problem sending him away). But it’s not true. The Bush administration does not “take seriously” the standard laid out in the Convention Against Torture.

The Convention Kozak sites prohibits extradition to a State “where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.”

Several reports indicate the Bush administration, based on a top-secret memo drafted at the request of new Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, has shipped prisoners off to Syria and Egypt, both of which appear in the State Department’s Human Rights report released this week.

So, are there “substantial grounds for believing” those countries might abuse detainees? You decide:

Egypt: “[In 2003 and 2004], torture and abuse of detainees by police, security personnel, and prison guards remained common and persistent. According to the U.N. Committee Against Torture, a systematic pattern of torture by the security forces exists, and police torture resulted in deaths during the year…there were numerous, credible reports that security forces tortured and mistreated detainees.”

Syria: “During the year…The torture of political detainees was a common occurrence…torture methods included administering electrical shocks; pulling out fingernails; forcing objects into the rectum; beating, sometimes while the victim was suspended from the ceiling; hyperextending the spine; bending the detainees into the frame of a wheel and whipping exposed body parts; and using a backward-bending chair to asphyxiate the victim or fracture the victim’s spine.”