U.S. shootings by police, prison conditions trouble U.N.

A U.N. anti-torture panel that’s investigating the United States said Friday that it was deeply concerned by what it described as the high incidence of police brutality and shootings _ especially against African-Americans _ in the U.S., was troubled by what it called harsh conditions in many prisons and was worried about the interrogation methods used on detainees.

The experts on the United Nations panel called for declassifying evidence of torture by the U.S. – in particular Guantanamo Bay detainees’ accounts – and declassifying and promptly releasing, with minimal redactions, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report about the CIA’s secret detention and interrogation program.

“We express concern at the reported current police violence in Chicago, especially against African-American and Latino young people, and deep concern at the frequent and recurrent police shootings or fatal pursuit of unarmed black individuals,” said Alessio Bruni, a member of the panel and a lead investigator in the review of U.S. compliance with the 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. The U.S. ratified the 156-member-country convention in 1994.

Bruni, an Italian, said the 10-member panel recommended “that all instances of police brutality and excessive use of force by law enforcement officers are investigated promptly, effectively and impartially by an independent mechanism with no institutional or hierarchical connection between the investigators and the alleged perpetrators.”

On Nov. 12-13, nearly 30 senior officials from the U.S. Departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, along with the attorney general of Mississippi, presented evidence and were examined by the U.N. panel. The session was part of the periodic review of U.S. compliance with the anti-torture convention. The U.S. was last reviewed in May 2006.

Civil rights activists and human rights groups also met with the panel in Geneva. Among those testifying were the parents of Michael Brown, 18, who was shot dead Aug. 9 in Ferguson., Mo., by a police officer. A grand jury chose this week not to indict the officer.

Asked about the decision not to charge the officer who shot Brown, Bruni said: “It is always a tragedy when a person is killed and especially by an official of the government. . . . Can’t say more because there has been a judicial decision on this point and we have to respect that decision.”

The committee also said it was concerned about what it called excessive use of force by law enforcement officials against immigrants and LGBT individuals, about racial profiling and about the growing militarization of policing activities.

“This (U.N.) report – along with the voices of Americans protesting around the country this week – is a wake-up call for police who think they can act with impunity,” said Jamil Dakwar, the director of human rights at the American Civil Liberties Union.

The panel said it was appalled at the number of reported deaths that followed the use of stun guns, and it recommended that the weapons be used “exclusively in extreme and limited situations” and be banned for use on children and pregnant women.

The U.N. panel noted its concern at what it described as the high number of deaths in custody – 958 inmates died in American jails in 2012, up nearly 8 percent from2010 – and it called on the U.S. government to investigate all deaths of detainees promptly.

The panel said the U.S. should limit solitary confinement to “a measure of last resort” and prohibit its use for juveniles, people with disabilities, and pregnant and breastfeeding women. It said it was concerned about the use of solitary confinement for indefinite periods.

Bruni said keeping people in maximum-security prisons in solitary confinement up to 22 to 23 hours a day was not acceptable.

The panel also raised concerns about the U.S. military’s interrogation methods. Bruni said, “Certain changes have to be made in certain parts of the military manual for interrogation.”

The report said the United States should abolish the “physical separation technique,” which limits detainees to at least four hours of continued sleep.

With regard to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, the panel concluded that the United States should “cease the use of indefinite detention without charge or trial for individuals suspected of terrorism or related activities,” and it recommended that the government end the force-feeding of detainees on hunger strikes.