“When the United States stands up for human rights, by example at home and by effort abroad, we align ourselves with men and women around the world who struggle for the right to speak their minds, to choose their leaders, and to be treated with dignity and respect. We also strengthen our security and well being, because the abuse of human rights can feed many of the global dangers that we confront — from armed conflict and humanitarian crises, to corruption and the spread of ideologies that promote hatred and violence.
So on this Human Rights Day, let us rededicate ourselves to the advancement of human rights and freedoms for all, and pledge always to live by the ideals we promote to the world.” – President Barack Obama
Although the government of the United States never hesitates to claim for itself the honor of being a sparkling light in a dark world, the facts aren’t always available to support the mystique.
In reality, the citizens of the United States are increasingly exposed to the fact that, although the U.S. is the most powerful nation in the world, it does not always use its power for the good of humankind, either domestically or abroad.
Politicians seek to minimize the damage by offering slimy justifications for their actions, but as the curtain is pulled back and as more information becomes available through the courageous acts of whistleblowers and investigative journalists, we can begin to see past the propaganda about American exceptionalism, freedom fighting, democracy promotion, and all other such empty rhetoric.
The principle “might makes right” seems, for the U.S., to trump any notions of respect for human rights, respect for international law, or indeed respect for the domestic population.
The serious and heinous crime of torture was met with a seemingly reluctant admission from President Obama: “We tortured some folks.”
To make matters worse, Obama refuses to pursue justice, effectively blocking, by his words, any notion of punishing those involved with ordering and carrying out these so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
…the President remained silent on accountability and redress, reflecting the USA’s continuing refusal to meet its international obligations on these issues. Neither did he make any reference to enforced disappearance, a crime under international law to which most, if not all, of those held in the secret programme were subjected, some of them for years.
Along with utilizing illegal and inhuman interrogation techniques, the United States also took the liberty of detaining anyone they wanted without evidence.
At the end of 2014, 127 men were held at Guantánamo, the majority without charge or trial. Almost half had been approved for transfer out of the base, most since January 2010 or earlier. Twenty-eight detainees were transferred out of the base during the year, following the 11 who had been transferred from there in 2013.
So much for the rule of law. Those who boast of exceptionalism and American “ideals” have a lot to answer for.
While enabling criminals and torturers to run free, President Obama is also running his own criminal campaigns, the most disastrous being the drone program. As far as we know, this is a program of wanton assassination: whoever President Obama feels needs to be taken out is going to be taken out, even American citizens who are living abroad.
Just imagine the chaos that would ensue if another country decided to assassinate someone in the United States without presenting any evidence that this person has committed a crime of any kind. Imagine, then, that this country flies a drone over the individual’s house, fires a missile, kills the target, along with a few civilians (but these are dismissed, of course, as “collateral damage”).
This, of course, would be seen as unacceptable. And rightly so.
But the U.S. government is becoming more and more open about the fact that it transcends any notion of law, justice, or morality. By definition, the actions of the government are for the good of the world and it’s intentions are noble, therefore it follows that it should be able to kill whoever it wants, whenever it wants, and however it wants.
Thus, Obama’s drone program elicits far less outrage than it deserves.
(The report does not touch on the drone campaign specifically, probably because it is not an issue that is taking place on U.S. soil, but I felt it was necessary to address in this context.)
The Criminal Justice System
Along with treating those we “capture” abroad with a complete lack of humanity, the criminal “justice” system within United States is showing some unflattering characteristics, as well.
On prison conditions:
Tens of thousands of prisoners remained in isolation in state and federal prisons across the USA, confined to cells for between 22 and 24 hours a day in conditions of stark social and environmental deprivation.
On excessive use of force:
At least 35 people across 18 states died after being struck by police Tasers, bringing the total number of such deaths since 2001 to 602. Tasers have been listed as a cause or contributory factor in more than 60 deaths. Most of those who died after being struck with a Taser were not armed and did not appear to pose a serious threat when the Taser was deployed.
The report also addressed the shooting of Michael Brown, and the subsequent reaction and protests that move forward to this day. It also touches on the treatment of protestors:
The use of heavy-duty riot gear and militarygrade weapons and equipment to police the demonstrations served to intimidate protesters who were exercising their right to peaceful assembly while the use of rubber bullets, tear gas and other aggressive dispersal tactics was not warranted, and protesters and journalists were injured as a result.
And, on other incidents of excessive use of force by law enforcement:
A number of other incidents demonstrated the need for a review of standards on the use of force in the USA.
These included the deaths of Kajieme Powell, a 25-year-old black man, who was shot and killed by St Louis City Police on 19 August, with film footage of the incident appearing to contradict the initial official version of events; Ezell Ford, 25, an unarmed black man with a history of mental illness, who was shot and killed by Los Angeles police officers on 11 August; and Eric Garner, a 43-year-old black man, who died on 17 July after being placed in a chokehold by New York Police Department officers while being arrested for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.
And with new and outrageous reports about a secret detention interrogation and interrogation facility in Chicago, which has been compared to a CIA “black site,” the evidence does not lead one to conclude that we are headed in the right direction.
The report also touches on the rights of migrants, particularly children:
More than 50,000 unaccompanied migrant children were apprehended crossing the southern border of the USA in 2014, some as young as five. The US Border Patrol detained unaccompanied children for days or weeks in insanitary facilities and without access to legal counsel, translators or proper medical attention.
The United States is the most privileged nation in the world, and with that privilege it can do several things.
Two that immediately come to mind are: It can use its privilege to improve human rights around the world through truly diplomatic means, or it can seek to expand and impose its own commercial interests upon the world. Since WWII, it seems that the U.S. has taken the latter path, allowing “vague and unreal objectives,” in the words of George Kennan, like democracy and human rights to back a backseat.
The promotion of democracy and human rights must first take place in the United States before it can claim that they are being exported elsewhere. And to even take steps toward realizing these outcomes, we must first seriously investigate our own crimes and shortcomings. An unwillingness to do so, which President Obama has shown time and time again, can only lead to greater problems in the future.