The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has singled out the US for being at the centre of what it called one of the most flagrant examples human rights violations of the year in its annual worldwide survey of breaches.

HRW director Kenneth Roth said while the United States insists it doesn’t encourage the use of torture at facilities such as Abu Ghraib and the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, there has been a willingness to use “cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment”.

“It’s embrace of coercive interrogation (is) part of a broader betrayal of human rights principles in the name of combating terrorism,” the HRW report stated.

According to the rights group, the perception that Washington is pushing the boundaries of acceptable behaviour also threatens to erode respect for human rights on the world stage.

“The US government is less and less able to push for justice abroad because it’s unable to see justice done at home,” Mr Roth said.

“Governments facing human rights pressure from the United States now find it easy to turn the tables.”

The cost of losing ground on human rights might be measured in terms of millions lives lost, as witnessed with the deaths of up to 70,000 people in Sudan’s Darfur region due to fighting and deprivations inflicted by government-backed Arab militants on black Africans.

Mr Roth said he found the US practice of holding foreign terror suspects at undisclosed locations was particularly insidious and disturbing.

“When a person is disappeared, he is extremely vulnerable to torture,” Mr Roth said.

Human Rights Watch has called for the appointment of a special prosecutor and the establishment of an independent commission to investigate the alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US military personnel at Abu Ghraib.

In late August, a US commission found that American soldiers in charge of the Iraqi prison were largely to blame.

Now a military court at Fort Hood in Texas is trying several members of the 372nd Military Police Company for their alleged role carrying out humiliating abuses of prisoners, some of which were filmed and photographed.

However, Mr Roth said a special investigator would be less vulnerable to political pressure than recent internal US government probes, and would be less likely to limit its prosecution to ‘a handful of privates and sergeants”.

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