Tuesday, March 08, 2005

US hypocrisy on human rights

From the Christian Science Monitor:

Normally when the US State Department issues its annual report on human rights abuses around the world, those nations named in the report can be counted on to dismiss any claims made in the report. But the chorus of those damning the State Department's effort this year have been much louder and more aggressive because of one country these critics claim the report excluded - the United States itself.

The Washington Post reported last week that countries like China, Russia, Mexico and others accused the US of a double-standard in talking about human rights abuses, after a year that saw the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, as well as questions raised about the level of force used by US troops in Iraq in dealing with journalists and Iraqi civilians.

'The US State Department in its human rights report blames countries such as Egypt and Syria for using torture; however, there is not even a mention of the incidents in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq,' complained the mainstream Turkish newspaper Hurriyet. 'Of course, there is no mention of Guantanamo, either.'

The Post reports that Jose Luis Soberanes, president of Mexico's Human Rights Commission, citing the "treatment of Mexicans who sneak across the border" into the US, referred to the US report as "the donkey talking about long ears" – the Spanish-language equivalent of "the pot calling the kettle black" – "because the United States violates human rights, especially those of our countrymen."

The Sunday Mirror of South Africa, a country criticized by the US State Department, reported Sunday that South African government officials also claimed a better human rights record than the US.

The chairman of the South African Human Rights Commission, Jody Kollapen, said, 'We are doing much better than the United States in many respects. We conduct elections better than them and deal with terrorism better than them.'

The result of not including US human rights problems in the State Department document, writes The Republican of western Massachusetts in an editorial, is that a country that clearly does have a bad record on human rights, like China, claims the moral high ground on the issue.

'No country should exclude itself from the international human rights development process or view itself as the incarnation of human rights that can reign over other countries and give orders to the others,' declared an official statement from Premier Wen Jiabao's cabinet.

In English: The United States has no business commenting on what happens in other nations.

Mickie Spiegel, China researcher at the New York-based Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera, the Arab satellite network, that the US's refusal to deal with its own record on human rights abuses worries him, because it makes it easier for countries with really bad human rights records to ignore the US.

'Though I believe the US report on China tries to reflect accurately what is happening, American actions (in Iraq) has made it easier for the Chinese to criticize America, and makes it easier for more abusive governments to justify their own actions.

'In terms of the US ability to speak for people's rights (Iraq) makes it very difficult for people to follow America and this worries me.'

In an editorial, The New York Times also took the Bush administration to task for not being more transparent about US human rights abuses.

The administration's refusal to remedy these abuses – or even acknowledge most of them – leaves the 2004 human rights report heavy with irony and saps its authority. Not only did the report fail to mention that the Iraqi government it criticized was appointed and controlled by the United States, but it also chastised the local security forces for the same kinds of arbitrary detentions, abusive treatment and torture that have been widespread in American military and intelligence prison camps. Indeed, some of the practices the report labeled as torture when employed by foreign governments were approved at one point for American detention centers by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

But an editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel defended the US, and called the human rights report an important document.

It is true enough that America's record is far from perfect. The abuse of inmates at the now-infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere, for example, is "a stain on the honor of the US," as one State Department official candidly acknowledged last week. But that doesn't mean that only those with a perfect record should speak out. The State Department's report remains a useful source of information and a constant reminder of the importance of protecting human rights all over the globe.

The US record on human rights took other hits last week. Al Jazeera also reported that Dr. Khalid ash-Shaykhli, an official at Iraq’s health ministry, told a press conference in Baghdad that his department's investigation in the conflict in Fallujah show that US forces used "internationally banned weapons" during its offensive last November, including napalm and jet fuel. The United States has never signed the treaty that banned the use of napalm against civilians.

Meanwhile, The New York Times also reported Sunday about the 'extraordinary rendition' – sending suspects to foreign countries with weaker laws against torture, for interrogation – while the CBS-TV program, 60 minutes, also reported about the same practice.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the CIA regularly flies "suspects" to countries like "Morocco, Egypt, Libya ... and even some former Soviet republics such as Uzbekistan, which, the State Department says, regularly uses torture in its prisons and detention centers."

A former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, told 60 Minutes he had complained to his superiors that information was being obtained by torture and sent his deputy to the CIA station chief to inquire about torture. According to Mr. Murray, who resigned from the Foreign Service when he was recalled from Uzbekistan, the CIA chief confirmed that torture was taking place. The CIA on Sunday denied that any meeting had taken place between the CIA chief in Tashkent and Mr. Murray's deputy.

On the same 60 Minutes program, former CIA member analyst Michael Scheuer, who helped devise the rendition program during the Clinton administration, was asked if it was OK if these countries were torturing people.

"It's OK with me. Our role was to gather information. My job was to protect American lives."

CNN reports that a White House official denied that the United States used the practice to "export torture."

"This program of renditions is fully authorized, so the CIA is not doing anything illegal that has not been authorized by the president," the former official said. He said both the chairmen and ranking Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence committees are entitled to know about it or have been briefed on it.

White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett said President Bush is totally opposed to the idea of torture in any form.