Tuesday, March 06, 2007

U.S. questions it's own human rights record

My jaw dropped when I read about the annual State Department report on human rights. If my jaw dropped I can just imagine John Boltons head glowing beet red and his moustache bursting into flames upon reading this report.

It seems that the State Department is aware of the problems that the United States of America has with our own record on human rights, and makes a point of acknowledging these troubles in the report. I must admit that I am very pleasantly surprised and actually hopeful that this admission leads to some soul searching and corrective actions on behalf of this administration.

In my own small way, I would like to help the State Department by documenting a small portion of what I consider to be the administrations sad lack of respect for human rights. To do so, I willconsider the criteria used to judge nations on their respect for human rights, and how those criteria relate to the activities of this administration:
Disappearance --Covers cases in which political motivation appears likely and in which the victims have not been found or perpetrators have not been identified. Cases eventually classified as political killings in which the bodies of missing persons are discovered also are covered in the previous section, while those eventually identified as having been arrested or held in detention may be covered under "Arbitrary Arrest or Detention."
There is no doubt that America is responsible for disappearance of detainees on a wide scale. The report of CIA secret prisons was confirmed by the President of the United States. The existence of these prisons was classified, so when the story was leaked, there was wide spread condemnation for someone exposing national security to our enemies. Running these secret prisons is to define the term disappear.

In the late summer of last year, in an obvious election year ploy to cover the administrations illegal activities, the President announced the transfer of 14 "high value detainees" from secret prisons to the Guantanamo Bay detention center and urged passage of the Military Commissions Act. Yet there are still thousands more unaccounted for detainees, many believed to be held in detention at Bagram Airforce Base in Afghanistan, and many others held without charge in Iraq.

Finally is the case of an American citizen arrested on American soil. George Bush declared Jose Padilla an enemy combatant and held him incommunicado at a military prison from June 2002 til January 2006. During this time Padilla appears to have been held in extreme isolation including sensory deprivation, resulting in mental difficulties which are yet to be understood. His keepers refer to him as acting much like a piece of furniture. This neatly segues to the next criteria for consideration in a nations commitment to human rights.
Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment --Covers torture (an act of intentionally inflicting severe pain, whether physical or mental) and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment committed by or at the instigation of government forces,
This definition of torture is decidedly more in line with conventional definitions than the one accepted by the administration: the infliction of pain on a level approaching organ failure or death. Stress positions, fear techniques, sleep deprivation, humiliation, exposure to temperature extremes and many other practices accepted by this administration as not being torture, are in fact torture according to the State Department.
Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence-- Discusses the "passive" right of the individual to noninterference by the state.
FISA law violations, and the Presidents stated determination that he has the constitutional right to break the laws of the land and spy on people he thinks need spying upon because he has determined them to be a security threat fly in the face of this one.
Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights --Discusses whether the government permits the free functioning of local human rights groups (including the right to investigate and publish their findings on alleged human rights abuses), whether these groups are subject to reprisal by government or other forces, and whether government officials are cooperative and responsive to their views.
The American government refuses to discuss many many aspects of our detainee program, from the places we detain prisoners to the techniques used to interrogate them. The President on several occasions when asked specifically about the use of waterboarding has declined to answer that question, saying that to do so would be to expose interrogation techniques and harmful to national security. In two very high profile cases, the U.S. government has been proven responsible in foreign courts for the mistaken rendition of foreign nationals, but when these cases are brought to our domestic courts the government pleads that to even allow the cases to proceed would be to damage national security. They argue that to even discuss the cases in court would be to harm national security, using the dubious logic that two of the most widely publicized and notorious cases must be kept "secret". All of these examples and many others do not argue well for American compliance with openess and cooperation into human rights violations. The Red Cross is allowed unfettered access to detainees at Guantanamo Bay only because they agree to the condition that they not discuss those visits publicly.

Based upon these examples, and there are many more, I would have to agree with the State Department and Condoleeza Rice in being concerned about our own record on human rights. And I must say that I am pleasantly surprised to find myself agreeing with Rice for once.

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