“For a country that believes so strongly in human rights to have swiftly abandoned their fundamentals at a time of crisis is as astonishing as it is deplorable.”
Yesterday, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights, gave his annual report on the state of human rights around the world.
While al-Hussein worked to touch on many of the horrifying human rights violations that took place throughout the past year, he offered a particularly scathing critique of the world’s superpowers, and their shaky willingness to uphold basic standards of human rights in the midst of the so-called “War on Terror.”
[C]ounter-terrorist operations that are non-specific, disproportionate, brutal and inadequately supervised violate the very norms that we seek to defend. They also risk handing the terrorists a propaganda tool – thus making our societies neither free nor safe.
Addressing the Senate Torture Report, which detailed to a limited extent the United States’ inhumane treatment of prisoners, often under the pretext of “national security,” al-Hussein writes,
“[T]he Senate report on torture in the context of counter-terrorism operations is courageous and commendable, but profoundly disturbing.
For a country that believes so strongly in human rights to have swiftly abandoned their fundamentals at a time of crisis is as astonishing as it is deplorable.
And yet few other countries have had the courage to likewise publicly investigate and publicly admit to rights abuses resulting from counter-terror operations – and many should.”
It is indeed “commendable” that the U.S. should work to expose its own crimes, although what was released is only a small fraction of the information that should be made available to the public.
And another question still remains: are those who perpetrated these crimes against humanity going to be held accountable? With the “look forward, not backward” rhetoric of the Obama administration, it doesn’t appear to be likely.
Under international law, the report’s recommendations must be followed through with real accountability.
There is no prescription for torture, and torture cannot be amnestied. It should also lead to examination of the institutional and political causes that led the US to violate the absolute prohibition on torture, and measures to ensure this can never recur.
Al-Hussein adds that, aside from the fact that torture is a heinous violation of human rights, it also doesn’t make the world a safer place, as the torture program’s chief apologists would have you believe.
As the Senate report clearly demonstrates, the neglect of due process, use of torture and collective punishments that were permitted by US officials in the post-9/11 context did not make the world – or the US – any safer.
On the contrary, they increased the threat of terrorism, by feeding into the grievances on which it thrives. The orange jumpsuits of Guantanamo are a recruitment tool for ISIL and other groups. As former President George W. Bush has conceded, Guantanamo became, I quote, “a propaganda tool for our enemies.
Read the full report here.
These are eloquent and important words which will, if history is any guide, fall upon deaf ears.
It is basic doctrine for the United States that we do not investigate our own crimes, and as such they are essentially, in Noam Chomsky’s phrase, “vetoed from history.”
Change will undoubtedly require a systemic willingness to look in the mirror, to accept the principle of universality (the moral principle that one should apply to oneself the same standard one applies to others), and to take steps toward righting the wrongs of the past, which will make it less likely that these crimes will be committed again in the future.
But the U.S. government is doing none of the above. War criminals and human rights violators are granted impunity, with very few exceptions, while our political officials continue to boast self-righteously about our commitment to democracy and the good of mankind.
Until America sheds the dubious theological doctrine of exceptionalism and looks in the mirror without blinders, and listens to the victims of its crimes as well as those who fight to uphold international law, nothing will change.