The US government is running a string of prisons around the world, many of them secret camps through which people disappear, a top Amnesty International official says.
Amnesty International (AI) Executive Director William Schulz criticised on Sunday the administration of US President George Bush for holding alleged opponents in indefinite incommunicado detention without access to lawyers.
The rights group representative was pressed to substantiate Amnesty's claim that the prison camp at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where hundreds of suspects are being held indefinitely, represents the "gulag of our times".
The gulag claim, referring to the notorious prison camps of the former Soviet Union, has been fiercely criticised by Bush, who called the claim absurd, Vice-President Dick Cheney, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other top US officials.
Schulz said the reference was not "an exact or a literal analogy".
"But there are some similarities. The United States is maintaining an archipelago of prisons around the world, many of them secret prisons into which people are being literally disappeared, held in indefinite incommunicado detention without access to lawyers," he said.
Call for investigation
Schulz called for an official probe into the alleged rights abuses at US detention centres around the globe.
The United States "should be the one that should investigate those who are alleged at least to be architects of torture, not just the foot soldiers who may have inflicted the torture directly, but those who authorised it or encouraged it or provided rationales for it or, in the case of Rumsfeld, provided the exact rules, 27 of them in fact, for interrogations, some of which do constitute torture or cruel, inhumane treatment," Schulz said.
The New York Times newspaper said on Sunday that the Guantanamo Bay prison should be closed by the Bush administration, saying it had become a national shame and a propaganda gift to America's enemies.