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U.S. rejects Amnesty charge

WASHINGTON (CNN) --The U.S. has rejected an accusation from Amnesty International that the U.S.-led war against terror is sowing fear and danger in the name of global security.

The human rights group says the U.S. has used the war on terrorism to deny basic rights to suspects arrested.

"We reject any criticism, any allegations that our human rights efforts have diminished," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

The group made the charge in remarks accompanying its annual report, a 311-page wide-ranging review of human rights abuses in 151 countries during the calendar year 2002.

The rights group said the United States "continued to deny international recognized rights to people arrested in the context of the 'war against terrorism.' Thousands were detained from the war in Afghanistan in defiance of international law."

Amnesty said foreign nationals arrested in the United States after September 11, 2001, terror attacks "were also deprived of safeguards under international law. They include 1,200 foreigners, mostly Muslim men who are Arab or South Asian.

"By the end of the year most detainees arrested during initial sweeps had been deported -- some to countries where it was feared they were at risk of being tortured -- or were released or charged with crimes unrelated to 'terrorism.'"

The report said more than 600 detainees are still being held at Camp X-Ray at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, "without being charged and without legal assistance."

"The USA refused to recognize them as prisoners of war or afford them other rights under international law," the report said.

"Conditions in Camp X-Ray and, later, in Camp Delta, gave cause for serious concern. U.S. forces also held hundreds of detainees in Afghanistan, or in undisclosed locations."

The White House reacted strongly to the accusation.

"The prisoners in Guantanamo are being treated humanely," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Wednesday.

"They are receiving medical care, they are receiving food, they are receiving far better treatment than in the life they were living previously."

In the past the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service has denied that basic human rights have been withheld from foreign nationals detained in the United States.

U.S. officials contend the prisoners are "unlawful combatants" rather than prisoners of war and as a result are not covered by the Geneva Convention.

The "unlawful combatant" designation allows the U.S. to indefinitely interrogate the detainees for intelligence on Afghanistan's former Taliban authorities and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

During a hearing earlier this year in which lawyers representing men held at Guantanamo Bay sought access to their clients, Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement said terror attacks made detention at Guantanamo necessary for the suspects' "own protection and to prevent them from re-enlisting."

'Deepened divisions'

The effects of the U.S.-led war on terror have been far-reaching, Amnesty said in a statement, "creating deep divisions and sowing the seeds for more conflict."

In a separate press conference Wednesday, William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said U.S.-led events of 2003 generated deleterious effects.

The war on Iraq provided an excuse for other countries "in the name of anti-terrorism or in the name of national security" to crack down on opponents of their regimes, he said.

Schulz said the Iraqi war was a "distraction of the world's attention from horrific human rights abuses elsewhere," and gave ammunition to countries that circumvent the United Nations and "use the excuse the United States itself does not respect international law."

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