The Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal has not deterred foreign governments from turning to the United States for help in advancing democracy and human rights in their countries, State Department officials said yesterday.
The remarks came as the department issued a report on what it is doing to foster human rights around the world. The report’s release was postponed 12 days because of the prisoner-abuse scandal in Iraq.
Senior officials conceded that pictures of Iraqi prisoners being abused and humiliated by U.S. soldiers had hurt Washington’s credibility abroad.
“We have seen some of [our] ideals and institutions rocked in recent weeks by the shocking revelations of American human rights violations in Iraq,” Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage told reporters.
“It is simply not enough to punish those who fall short of our high standards,” he said. “We must do more than that. We must create a constructive legacy, one that promotes and protects human rights and democracy around the world.”
Lorne Craner, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, said the State Department had postponed the report’s release, which was initially scheduled for May 5, because of the environment created by the prison pictures.
But the Bush administration is encouraged by what it has heard from foreign countries, he said.
“What we are hearing from people overseas is, ‘We think Abu Ghraib is an awful thing and we think it shows that the United States is imperfect, but we still want you to help us,’” Mr. Craner said.
The 265-page report, “Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record, 2003-2004,” is mandated by Congress and follows the annual report on human rights practices around the world, which was issued in February.
The new report does not mention the misbehavior of American soldiers. Instead, it documents U.S. programs designed to overcome Iraq’s “extremely poor” human rights record during ousted dictator Saddam Hussein’s rule.
“Until its fall, the regime was responsible for the disappearance, torture and killing of persons suspected or related to persons suspected of opposition politics, economic crimes, military desertion and a variety of other activities,” the report said.
Washington’s efforts to break with that record include the creation of a human rights ministry and training for judicial, law enforcement and security officials.
The report also cited rights abuses in other countries, saying the government of China “continued to commit numerous and serious abuses.”
Mr. Craner dismissed Beijing’s recent claim that the United States has no right to lecture other countries on human rights in light of the Abu Ghraib scandal. He said China will always find a reason to divert attention from its own poor record.