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Countries that rely on 'diplomatic assurances ' that other countries won 't torture transferred prisoners "are either engaging in wishful thinking or using the assurances as a figleaf to cover their complicity, " a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) charges.

HRW said, "There is substantial evidence that in the course of the global "war on terrorism, " an increasing number of governments have transferred, or proposed sending, alleged terrorist suspects to countries where they know the suspects will be at risk of torture or ill-treatment. "

The report, "Still at Risk ", said, in countries with "a serious and persistent " history of prisoner abuse, "diplomatic assurances do not and cannot prevent torture. The practice should stop. "

Recipient countries have included Egypt, Syria, Uzbekistan, and Yemen, where torture is a systemic human rights problem. Transfers have also been carried out or proposed to Algeria, Morocco, Russia, Tunisia, and Turkey, "where members of particular groups -- Islamists, Chechens, Kurds -- are routinely singled out for the worst forms of abuse ".

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The HRW report comes on the heels of British Prime Minister Tony Blair 's proposal, following the London underground bombings, to deport people who advocate violence.

HRW said "the use of diplomatic assurances against torture is a global phenomenon, with sending countries in North America and Europe leading the charge ".

It added, "The issue of diplomatic assurances against torture gained notoriety recently when U.S. officials acknowledged a large number of transfers of suspects to countries where torture is a serious human rights problem, claiming that U.S. authorities regularly sought and received diplomatic assurances of humane treatment from receiving governments prior to the transfers. In an increasing number of those cases, the suspects have credibly alleged that they were tortured. "

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According to Dr. Beau Grosscup, professor of international relations at California State University and an expert on terrorism, "Diplomatic assurances are trumped by the military, police and intelligence 'counter-insurgency' programs that the two Cold War superpowers instituted and still run in many of these countries that train police and military personnel in torture. " Grosscup says, "The real attitude driving the 'rendition' efforts is: 'Having paid to train them in torture, why not get our monies worth '. "

In a separate statement, HRW criticized the August 10th 'memorandum of understanding ' reached between the United Kingdom and Jordan.

It said the U.K. "cannot deport security suspects to Jordan without violating the international prohibition against sending persons to countries where they face a serious risk of torture. "

The agreement, HRW said, "does nothing to reduce that risk or to change the obligation not to expose people to torture ".

"There is still torture in Jordan, especially with regard to security suspects, " said Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch 's Middle East division.

"All the good reasons that prevented the U.K. from deporting people to Jordan before August 10 remain unchanged by this agreement. "

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The U.K. and Jordan are both parties to the Convention against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. "Under international law, the prohibition against torture is absolute and cannot be waived under any circumstances ", HRW said.

Britain recently detained several foreign residents who may now face deportation. Jordan 's State Security Court, composed of two military and one civilian judge, had sentenced two of the men in absentia to 15-year and life sentences respectively for involvement in terrorist activities in 2000 and 2001.

HRW pointed out that "criminals convicted in absentia have the right to a full retrial once they come into Jordanian custody. "

HRW said that the U.K.-Jordan agreement "represents an effort to get around the Convention against Torture 's strict non-refoulement obligation and
has no mechanism for accountability ".

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William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)

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