U.N. Investigator Blasts U.S. Justice System
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 30, 2008 (IPS) - After a two-week fact-finding tour of U.S. prison and detention facilities, a U.N. human rights investigator has blasted the administration of President George W. Bush for a rash of shortcomings in the country's flawed justice system and continued violations of the rule of law.
Unleashing a stinging barrage of attacks, Professor Philip Alston, the U.N. special rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary and arbitrary executions, singles out the existence of racism in the application of the death penalty in the United States, and the lack of transparency in the deaths of prisoners in the Guantanamo Bay detention facility housing suspected terrorists.
Alston, a professor at the New York University School of Law
and an outspoken critic of human rights abuses worldwide, also complains about
the non-availability of information on civilian casualties in
During his 14-day tour of the
Alston was particularly critical of the state of
He specifically chose to visit
Still, 129 individuals waiting on death row have been
exonerated across the
"Indeed, while I was in Texas, the conviction of yet another person on death row was overturned by the Court of Criminal Appeals," Alston said.
While in this case DNA testing ultimately prevented the execution of an innocent man, Alston said, others may have been less fortunate.
In his report, Alston points out that studies across the
"When I raised this issue with federal and state government officials, I was met with indifference or flat denial," said Alston, who noted that many officials wrote off the results of studies showing racial disparity as being biased because they were written by researchers with anti-death penalty views.
"Given what is at stake, there is a need for governments at both the state and federal levels to revisit systematically the concerns about continuing racial disparities," he said.
Meanwhile, to date, just six of the "enemy
combatants" detained at the
According to Alston, the
"The fundamental principles of a fair trial may never be derogated from. But the text of the MCA, which provides the rules which govern the trials, and the experiences of those with whom I met during my mission involved in the trial process to date, indicate clearly that these trials utterly fail to meet the basic due process standards required for a fair trial under international humanitarian and human rights law," he added.
There have been five reported deaths of detainees at
In the custodial environment, Alston said, a state has a heightened duty and capacity to ensure and respect the right to life. As a result, there is a rebuttable presumption of state responsibility whether through acts of commission or omission in cases of custodial death.
The state has an obligation to investigate the deaths, and publicly report on the findings and the evidence upon which the findings are based. "But the Department of Defence has provided little public information about the causes or circumstance of any of these deaths," he said.
While it has been reported that autopsies were conducted in each case, the results have not been made public or even provided to the families of the deceased men, he added.
It was also reported that the Naval Criminal Investigative Services is conducting investigations into each of the deaths. But over two years since the first deaths, no results of investigations have been released.
On Mar. 4, 2007, U.S. Marines responded to a suicide attack on their convoy, in which one soldier was wounded, by killing 19 people and wounding many others in the space of a 10-mile retreat.
"I asked the regional commander in
In fact, a Court of Inquiry into the incident proceeded in
Unsurprisingly, he said, this conclusive and unsubstantiated
response to such a serious incident was met with dismay in
"Afghans and Americans have a right to ask on what basis this conclusion was reached," Alston said. "But all of the documents produced by the Court of Inquiry have remained classified. The record of proceedings has not been released. The 12,000 page report of the Court of Inquiry including recommendations and factual findings has not been released."
The U.S. government has even disregarded the existing regulation stating that the convening authority should ensure that an executive summary of the report be made public in order to inform government officials, the legislative branch, the media, and the next of kin of the victims of the investigations findings and recommendations.
"Whether or not the decision not to initiate courts-martial was justified, the manner in which the military justice system has operated in this case is entirely inconsistent with principles of public accountability and transparency," he declared.
Regarding killings by private security contractors, Alston
said: "It's the (
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