November 6, 2001

U.N. Torture Sleuth Concerned About U.S. Detainees

GENEVA (Reuters) -- The United Nations torture investigator expressed concern on Tuesday about the potential scope for abusing hundreds of people being held in custody in the United States in connection with the suicide attacks on September 11.

In an interview with Reuters, Sir Nigel Rodley, a British law professor who is U.N. special rapporteur (investigator) on torture, said it was important that the detainees establish contact with a lawyer as a means of avoiding any mistreatment.

His concerns echo those expressed by activists that the largest U.S. criminal probe in history could lead investigators to commit brutal excesses while interrogating suspects.

After more than eight years on the trail of torturers in hot spots from Rwanda to East Timor -- where he has combed police stations and prisons for evidence of abuse -- Rodley is stepping down next week from the independent post.

Rodley is joining the U.N. Human Rights Committee.

He has followed the round-up of more than 1,100 people after suicide attacks that Washington blames on Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden, believed to be sheltered in Afghanistan.

``I haven't received any specific allegations at this stage, but I am worried as to whether people in detention have had any access to the outside world, especially legal advice which is a very important protection against the temptation of authorities to resort to torture or similar ill treatment in interrogation,'' Rodley told Reuters.

``I am also worried that the United States but also other countries holding suspects may be tempted to send back people to their own country of origin whose governments might not be as scrupulous.

``Once we go down that road, we will be saying that the values of the international community are no better than the travesty of values that the terrorists themselves purport to espouse. That way they win,'' added the U.N. investigator, formerly head of the legal office of Amnesty International.

The White House said on Monday the ``lion's share'' of those detained had been released, contradicting the Justice Department, which said most were still held. The White House later clarified it meant only those held on criminal charges.

Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said all the detainees, some of whom are held by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, some on warrants as material witnesses and others on criminal charges -- were offered free lawyers.

``Everybody has a right to counsel,'' she told Reuters.

On Friday she told reporters that anyone with information about a specific incident should report it to the department which she said would protect people's rights.


The U.N. investigator, who gives his annual report to the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday, has investigated alleged torture in 15 countries, including Russia, Pakistan and Mexico.

But Rodley leaves with some regrets about stones left unturned, including a thwarted probe in China, where he has sought entry since 1996 to look into persistent allegations.

China has told Western diplomats in recent weeks it is willing to negotiate the terms of a visit, but has made no contact since May, he said. His terms require access to detention centers of his choice and interviews with inmates.

``From my end, there is still nothing new. It will be up to my successor,'' he said. ``Concerns relate to the problem and existence of torture in China, in police detention, in remand prisons and penitentiaries.

Political and religious detainees, including members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, and common criminal suspects can be subject to torture in China, Rodley said.

He said that all the countries that had failed to follow up on his requests for invitations were ``a matter of regret.''

His longest waits for an invitation has been with India and Indonesia (since 1993); Egypt (1996); Algeria (1997); Bahrain and Tunisia (1998).

Nor has he received a fresh green light from Russia, which he visited in 1994, after seeking last year to investigate alleged torture in the breakaway republic of Chechnya.

Israel denied his request in March to check allegations of torture in the occupied territories, according to Rodley.

``There are also countries I have not sought to visit because the societies are so tightly controlled by the authorities that I'd have more chance of creating victims than helping them,'' he said. ``Saudi Arabia and North Korea are examples that fall into that category,'' Rodley added.

Copyright 2001, Reuters. All rights reserved.

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