WASHINGTON -- Facing international criticism for American abuse of Iraqi prisoners, the Bush administration is highlighting its efforts to advance human rights and democracy in 101 countries, Iraq included.
The State Department on yesterday released its second annual report on the US government's activities to promote freedom of the press and religion, foster stable democracies, and halt torture and child labor, among other abuses.
The report was to have been released May 5, when much of the world was reacting with indignation to the disclosure that Iraqi prisoners in US custody had been mistreated.
The State Department withheld the report in hopes that additional time would create a more receptive climate for the chronicling of American good deeds overseas. But Secretary of State Colin Powell said the prisoner-abuse issue was a key item in his weekend discussions with foreign leaders at an international economic conference in Jordan.
''In their disappointment about America right now, I told them, 'Watch America, watch how we deal with this, watch how America will do the right thing,' " Powell said.
Powell, who delivered the commencement address yesterday at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., said he had promised other leaders ''multiple investigations" to get to the bottom of the scandal.
In Iraq, the report said, the United States, working with other countries and international organizations, has sought ''to address the effects of decades of political repression and human rights violations.
''The US human rights and democracy strategy has promoted Iraqi efforts to account for past atrocities, prevent future human rights abuses, and support institutions conducive to a successful transition to democracy," it said.
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said the Abu Ghraib incidents have not robbed the United States of the moral authority to expose excesses by undemocratic governments. ''Who would be better off if we self-consciously turned inward and ignored human rights abuses elsewhere -- in places like Burma and Zimbabwe and Belarus?" he asked as he released the report.
The report attempts to show what the administration has been doing in response to rights abuses outlined in an annual country-by-country study. The most recent edition of that study was issued in late February.
In China, the new report says, ''the United States supports a wide range of activities designed to improve human rights conditions by strengthening the judicial system and furthering the rule of law, encouraging democratic political reform, promoting freedom of religion, [and] protecting human rights."