Amnesty International criticizes U.S. handling of terror suspects
NEW YORK (CNN) -- The human rights group Amnesty International said Wednesday that interrogation techniques used on suspected September 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and on other alleged terrorists amount to torture.
"Despite claims to the contrary by U.S. officials, the use of sensory deprivation (hooding), prolonged physical restraint (shackling) and denial of needed medical care are all characteristic elements of torture, and like psychological torture, are prohibited under international law," the group said in a statement.
Interrogators are placing "all appropriate pressure" on Mohammed at an undisclosed location, U.S. officials have said. Authorities captured the al Qaeda operations chief Saturday in Pakistan.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer pledged Monday that the al Qaeda leader would be treated humanely according to international law.
"That is precisely what has been happening and exactly what will happen," Fleischer said.
Government sources said that nothing particularly useful has been gleaned from Mohammed so far but that he has begun to talk. Initially, the suspected terrorist limited his responses to recitations from the Koran, the Islamic holy book, the sources said.
Amnesty International said Mohammed's rights are among the casualties of the September 11 attacks and that "basic rights protected in the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights and international law are being denied in the aftermath of (those attacks)."
"All countries have a responsibility to protect prisoners in their custody from torture or any other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and to exercise universal jurisdiction over alleged torturers," the statement said.
The human rights group also raised concerns about "deaths in custody and suicide attempts" at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Afghanistan, saying the incidents could be indicative of detention conditions and interrogation methods "that are not only beyond the pale but also beyond the law."
Military coroners ruled that two detainees in U.S. custody in Afghanistan were homicide cases in December, but a military source said it was not clear whether anyone would be charged. (Full story)
One senior military official said, "This investigation may not go well for us."
Both men died at Bagram air base shortly after their arrival. The first man died December 3 of a pulmonary embolism and the second one December 10 of a heart attack. Autopsies found that "blunt force trauma" was a contributing factor in both cases, military sources said.
A detainee at Guantanamo Bay attempted suicide Monday but failed, according to a Pentagon official. It was the second attempt by that individual and the 20th suicide attempt among detainees since the United States began bringing them to the remote outpost last year. None of the attempts has been successful.
Military officials do not discuss the names or nationalities of the nearly 650 detainees at a specially constructed facility known as Camp Delta.
Between April 2002 and January 16, there were 11 suicide attempts. Since January 16, there have been nine additional attempts, according to a Pentagon official.
Officials said there is no apparent link among the most recent suicide attempts. One detainee remains hospitalized.
The Pentagon official said that most methods involved attempted hangings, but the official would not discuss details of other attempts.
U.S. or allied troops captured these detainees during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The detainees are suspected of being members of al Qaeda or the former Taliban regime.
"September 11, 2001, caused many to reflect upon the fundamental values on which (America) was founded," Amnesty International said in its statement. "It is imperative that the United States stand for the principles of unalienable, universal rights. Otherwise, those who wage war on human rights will have won the battle against freedom."
CNN National Security Correspondent David Ensor contributed to this report.