The past week has been very, very busy (when I haven't been flailing around with a stomach bug), but not so busy that I didn't notice this rather sad commentary on what our country has been up to lately.
An indictment of America
International Herald Tribune, JANUARY 27, 2006
When Human Rights Watch, a respected organization that has been monitoring the world's behavior since 1978, focuses its annual review on America's use of torture and inhumane treatment, every American should feel a sense of shame. And everyone who has believed in the United States as the staunchest protector of human rights in history should be worried.
Many nations - Belarus, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Cuba, Sudan and China to name only some of the worst - routinely trample on human rights in a way that neither the United States nor any of its allies would ever countenance. But the United States wrote the book on human rights; it defined the alternative to tyranny and injustice. So when the vice president of the United States actually lobbies against a bill that bans "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment," Human Rights Watch is justified in delivering harsh criticism.
The report does not let anyone else off the hook. The massacre of hundreds of demonstrators in Uzbekistan, the ethnic cleansing in Darfur, the restrictions on civil society in Saudi Arabia, the atrocities in Chechnya and all the other familiar episodes of human-rights abuse are reported and condemned.
But in the introduction by the executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, the United States is singled out not only because it has raised the heinous practice of torture to a "serious policy option," but also because in so doing it is sacrificing its ability to champion human rights in other countries. America is not the worst violator, Roth writes, but it is the most influential. Now, when Americans accuse Iraqi Shiites of torturing Sunni prisoners, the messenger's reputation taints the message.
The report says that 2005 made clear that abuse of detainees has become a "deliberate, central part of the Bush administration's strategy for interrogating terrorist suspects," and it accuses Britain of complicity in the practice. We have no illusion that the administration will pay any more heed to Human Rights Watch than they have to anyone else on this issue. But the report is also an indictment of the rest of the United States for failing to stop the destruction of its most cherished values.