Expert critical of anti-terror bill

MADRID, Spain – The top U.N. official on torture said Friday that a bill before the U.S. Congress could deprive terrorism suspects of a fair trial and was especially troubling after the mistreatment of prisoners at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.

The legislation, expected to clear a final congressional hurdle Friday and go to the White House for the president’s signature, was condemned by many politicians, human rights groups and newspapers around the world as a violation of international law and an invitation to torture. At least two U.S. allies – Poland and Britain – declined to comment directly on the proposal.

Manfred Nowak, the U.N. anti-torture investigator, said the bill was particularly troubling following known abuses in U.S. detention facilities.

“I’m very disappointed,” he said in Geneva. “It doesn’t send the signal that we would have expected after Abu Ghraib.”

The legislation would apply its rules for court proceedings only to those selected by the military for prosecution and would not generally affect the rest of the 14,000 prisoners in U.S. military custody, most of whom are in Iraq. The bill would protect detainees from blatant abuse – such as rape and torture – but does not require automatic legal counsel and specifically bars detainees from protesting their detentions in federal courts.

The Pentagon had previously selected 10 prisoners at Guantanamo to be tried, and President Bush is expected also to try some or all of the 14 suspects held by the CIA in secret prisons and recently transferred to military custody at Guantanamo.

Boar Ganor, a terrorism and security analyst at Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center, said the new U.S. legislation balanced effectively fighting terrorism and guarding democratic liberties.

“You have to consider sacrificing some effectiveness in counterterrorism for the sake of democratic values, and some democratic values for the sake of efficiency in counterterrorism,” Ganor said. “Israeli governments and the Israeli Supreme Court have recognized that guarding people’s lives is the most important liberal and democratic value of all.”

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