Human Rights Last
Today is the 56th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The United States has long provided global leadership on human rights. Today, however, that influence is starting to wane. The Bush administration is sending mixed signals about its commitment to defending human rights at home and around the world. The White House is undermining America's moral authority, as more nations begin to see the United States as a part of the problem instead of part of the solution. Moral leadership starts at home.
SILENT WITNESS: According to the AP, Federal Bureau of Investigation personnel witnessed Abu Ghraib-style abuse against detainees at Guantanamo Bay as early as 2002. A newly released memo shows Thomas Harrington, the FBI's assistant director for counterterrorism, told the Pentagon that"he witnessed abuses as the leader of a team of FBI investigators that went to Cuba in 2002. It says that FBI agents witnessed at least three cases of 'highly aggressive interrogation techniques being used against detainees.'" It doesn't seem the FBI sounded the alarm. In Harrington's memo, he writes, "I have no record that our specific concerns regarding these three situations were communicated to the Department of Defense for appropriate action."
POST-ABU GHRAIB COVER-UP: Weeks after the abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was publicly discovered, two Defense Department intelligence analysts witnessed new brutal treatment of prisoners in Iraq. Military investigators immediately tried to threaten the analysts into silence, warning them "not to talk to anyone" about the mistreatment they discovered. The intelligence analysts also had their e-mails monitored, their vehicle keys confiscated and were ordered not to leave the base without express permission. The White House tried to keep the June 25 memo documenting this under wraps, but was recently compelled to release it after a lawsuit was filed by the ACLU. The administration wants to "portray prisoner abuses as isolated events and the Pentagon's response as swift," and has "fought vigorously to keep the new documents from public view." As the Washington Post points out, there still is "no record...that makes clear whether the abuses...have stopped or whether anyone has been held responsible for them."
NOMINATION OF GONZALES: The White House has shown little interest in righting the wrongs of the abuse scandals or holding anyone responsible. Just last month, President Bush tapped Alberto Gonzales, the White House lawyer who was key in creating the policy which fostered the culture of abuse, to be the next attorney general. Gonzales was behind a Justice Department memo which included the opinion that laws prohibiting torture do "not apply to the President's detention and interrogation of enemy combatants." He also characterized the Geneva Conventions - the rules set in place to guarantee the humane, legal treatment of prisoners in war time - as "quaint." (For more on Gonzales's record on human rights, read this backgrounder.)
USING THE FRUITS OF TORTURE: Making matters worse, the administration believes that evidence gained by torture can be used by the U.S. military. For the past 70 years, statements produced under torture have been inadmissible in U.S. courts. According to Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Brian Boyle, however, U.S. military panels today "are allowed to use such evidence." Attorneys argued holding prisoners solely on evidence gained by torture "violated fundamental fairness and U.S. due process standards." Boyle's response? The detainees "have no constitutional rights enforceable in this court."
GLOBAL LEADERSHIP: A new memo by the Center for American Progress outlines nine critical areas in which the United States must take leadership in promoting human rights abroad. For example, the Bush administration has been reluctant to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin, counting him as a close ally even as he supports brutal methods of fighting terrorism in Chechnya and backs a rigged election in the Ukraine. The White House also has yet to seriously censure Saudi Arabia, ignoring reports of "unlawful executions, arrests, torture and censorship." Most egregiously, the Bush administration has not provided leadership in ending the genocide in Sudan.