US human rights abuse `widespead'

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The Independent Online
UNITED STATES police forces and criminal and legal systems have "a persistent and widespread pattern of human rights violations," and the country fails "to deliver the fundamental promise of rights for all," according to a harsh report published by Amnesty International today.

The report will be a shock for a country that prides itself on the protection of human rights and which regularly deplores abuses in other countries.

Amnesty has published reports on the United States before, campaigning to bring an end to the death penalty. But the approaching campaign is the first comprehensive review of the state of human rights in the US, or any other Western country. The group's most recent campaigns have focused on China and Turkey.

"Across the country thousands of people are subjected to sustained and deliberate brutality at the hands of police officers. Cruel, degrading and sometimes life-threatening methods of constraint continue to be a feature of the US criminal justice system," the report says, according to advance leaks of the 150-page document.

The death penalty is "often enacted in vengeance, applied in an arbitrary manner, subject to bias because of the defendant's race or economic status, or driven by the political ambitions of those who oppose it" it says.

It examines the use of electric shock stun belts to tame unruly inmates, which according to Amnesty can be fatal, and says that some illegal immigrants suffer summary confinement in jails and police custody for long periods without legal redress.

The report is expected to be particularly scathing of California's maximum- security state prison, in Corcoran. Home to the killer Charles Manson and Bobby Kennedy's assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, it houses numerous convicted murderers, rapists and violent gang members.

But it is the officers and prison guards that have been causing most concern. Around 50 prisoners have been shot by staff at Corcoran in the past nine years, seven fatally.

The prison has already been investigated for an incident in 1995 when 36 black inmates were kicked, punched, slammed against walls and grabbed by the testicles as they came off a bus in shackles.

Most disturbing of all were allegations that attempts to investigate such incidents were covered up at the highest state level. An official inquiry led to a cursory disciplinary response, and three official investigators later reported that their efforts had been directly hampered by political decisions in Sacramento, the state capital.

Amnesty says it does not want to equate the problems in the US with those in countries that routinely arrest and abuse dissidents, but it believes there are some areas in which the US "competes" with other countries in the seriousness of violations.