Thursday, November 3, 2011

Post #38 - The Pot Calling the Kettle Black

Not long ago a newspaper article cited U.S.-China sniping over human rights. Nothing newsworthy in that, of course. What was different is that these days there is actually a credible case to be made from the Chinese side. The People's Republic of China brought up abuses committed by U.S. troops and intelligence agents at Abu Ghraib Prison. They mentioned the murky legal status and endless detention at Guantanamo of nationals of many countries. They criticized U.S. spying on our own citizens, whether talking on the phone, using computers or traveling from point A to point B. “We urge the U.S. Government,” the Chinese Premier's office wrote, “to acknowledge its own human rights problems and stop interfering in other countries' internal affairs under the pretext of human rights.” Just a few days later, Russian officials echoed the Chinese message. We still have a country that is an enviable place to live (demand for visas to the United States shows no signs of letting up). But, if American support of basic human rights seems more like “pretext” than true witness, then we have lost two of the strongest “weapons” we had: ethical example and moral suasion.

Ivan Eland, of the Independent Institute, noted in a March, 2007 analysis of the Chinese complaints:

"China also cited Martin Sheinin, U.N. special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as saying that parts of the U.S. Military Commissions Act violate the Geneva Conventions.
"In 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that habeas corpus – the ancient right of a prisoner to challenge his or her detention – could not be denied to detainees at…Guantanamo…Despite this…the Military Commissions Act…prohibited federal courts from hearing habeas petitions…The Constitution clearly states that the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended…no exception is made for non-citizens or persons held…outside U.S. territory…If habeas corpus can be so denied, the U.S. government can kidnap people off the streets anywhere in the world, declare them “enemy combatants,” and hold them secretly and indefinitely without being charged, having access to legal counsel, being able to challenge their detention, and having a trial…
"Some would say that legal niceties, such as habeas corpus, impeded the war [on terrorism]…but for [that] battle…to succeed, the right people must be apprehended. The purpose of habeas corpus is to catch mistakes the government might make in detaining the wrong person….a significant number of prisoners at Guantanamo were arrested by mistake and are not terrorists…
"Governments behave much the same everywhere – they seek to expand their jurisdiction, authority, and resources...What is supposed to make America unique is…independent branches, which scrutinize and constrain each other’s power. Unfortunately, that system of checks and balances has now been seriously eroded."

It has been disturbing to many that the Obama administration, despite its initial enthusiasm for reversing the Bush approach to detention of suspects, has not managed to extricate itself from the legacy that president left behind.  They are still prisoners held at Guantanamo and the government still cites official secrecy to hold basic information close to the vest.

As we bemoan the eroding of the rights of habeas corpus, the head of the Iranian judiciary, as a part his efforts to reform Iran's legal system, in February 2008, issued a decree prohibiting the detention of suspects without being charged. Will we pass them going in the other direction one day? Not likely.  But around the United States, in airports (under private or federal jurisdiction), in the halls of Congress, and in our schools, people are being asked to defend rights which we have come to take for granted: a woman wearing a No Iran War T-shirt was refused entrance to the convention center in our nation's capital; an Iraqi-born architect and human rights activist was refused entrance to his plane to take off from JFK because his shirt had Arabic characters on it; a Hunter College student was refused a seat on the Staten Island Ferry because she wore one that said "We Will Not Be Silent" -- the message on her shirt comes from White Rose, a non-violent group of students from the University of Munich who opposed the Nazi Regime, and were executed for their exercise of free speech.
Sophie Scholl

Alex Schmorell

Hans Scholl

No comments:

Post a Comment