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Monday, 09 June 2008 06:38

U.S. quits as observer at UN Human Rights Council under war-crimes accusations

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by Meg White

The White House quietly pulled out of the UN Human Rights Council as the Bush Administration came under fire by the House of Representatives for possible war crimes violations. Separately, Guantanamo Bay prosecutors prepare for their own war-crimes tribunals and secret negotiations continue over the role of the U.S. in Iraq.

In his daily briefing Friday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack answered questions about the U.S. relinquishing its observer status in the international council. He criticized the institution as "pathetic," and "almost solely focused on bashing Israel." Though McCormack said the U.S. intends to "take a more reserved approach" in its participation, Reuters reported rumors that the U.S. will soon "disengage totally" from the council.

The 47-member council addresses human rights violations worldwide. It was created in 2006 to replace the UN Commission on Human Rights, which had been criticized for granting membership to countries with poor human rights records, such as China and Sudan. The U.S. voted against its creation and has since refused to become a seated member, though it remained an involved observer until the announcement this weekend.

The same day as the announcement from the State Department, 56 members of the House of Representatives called for an investigation into the possibility that the Bush Administration may have committed war crimes in its advocacy for more intense interrogation techniques against detainees.

In a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, the congressmen called for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate President Bush, his cabinet and others for having "systematically implemented, from the top down, detainee interrogation policies that constitute torture."

The lawmakers who signed the letter include the House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) of the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

Adding to the perception that harsh interrogation techniques are acceptable to the Bush Administration, a military defense lawyer said a standard operating procedures manual instructs interrogators at Guantanamo Bay to destroy evidence, including notes on how confessions were obtained.

The lawyer for Omar Khadr, Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, quoted the manual in an affidavit released Sunday. He said the directive will figure in his client's defense, which is expected to be among the earliest to be heard in the first U.S. war-crimes tribunal since World War II.

Last Thursday, journalist Patrick Cockburn reported details of a "secret plan" by the Bush Administration that were recently leaked to the British newspaper The Independent. He said the long-term agreement currently being negotiated between the U.S. and Iraqi governments, which President Bush said he will not submit for Congressional approval, would establish permanent bases in Iraq and extend the occupation indefinitely.

However, human rights watchdogs may be more concerned with the provision protecting U.S. troops and contractors, both of whom have been implicated in human rights scandals in that country, from criminal prosecution.

"American negotiators are also demanding immunity from Iraqi law for U.S. troops and contractors, and a free hand to carry out arrests and conduct military activities in Iraq without consulting the Baghdad government," Cockburn wrote.