Human rights violations too touchy for politicians to tackle
By Cal Colgan | firstname.lastname@example.org
Last month, the nation watched as Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States—and the first half-black president of this country. There were whispers of change, hope and prosperity among the students at Flagler after they watched the new president speak of facing difficult times together- not as Muslims, not as Christians, and not even as representatives of our various cultures- but simply as Americans.
Yet, as the saying goes, “The shadow of the past eclipses the future.” And although the shining light of “the audacity of hope” still resonates in the American psyche, the rest of the world has not forgotten the dark shadow cast by George W. Bush and his cronies.
According to a Jan. 21 article in Harper’s Magazine, German TV station ZDF recently interviewed Manfred Nowak, world-renowned law professor at the University of Vienna, and the current official responsible for defining and presenting cases of torture to the United Nations. Nowak told ZDF that Bush and former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld violated international law with their treatment of detainees in their oxymoronic “War on Terrorism.”
As Bush’s presidential term is now over, Nowak continued, he no longer has immunity from international trial as a head of state, and the Obama administration is bound by international law to begin a criminal investigation into the torture practices he and his underlings used.
Nowak investigated the U.S. detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay in 2006, and concluded that the Bush administration violated internationally-recognized human rights norms, especially the prohibition against the use of torture.
“The evidence is on the table. There is no avoiding the fact that this was torture,” Nowak told ZDF.
During its undertakings in the Convention Against Torture, the U.S. government stated that it was committed to criminally prosecuting anyone who tortured, or that it would at least extradite the offenders to a political state that would prosecute them. Nowak stated that the United States must honor its commitment to international human rights by bringing Bush and Rumsfeld to justice.
Yet, it is difficult to deliver punishment for international law violations to a former head of state of the U.S., which is by far the biggest rogue state of the 21st century.
Any intelligent person whose brain has not been completely whitewashed by the falsified claims of patriotic high school history textbooks knows that the U.S. government never had a problem with torture before Bush and his cronies seized control of the superpower.
In his Jan. 26 article for Counterpunch Magazine, columnist Alan Nairn recalls clandestine CIA operations around the globe that certainly involved torture and even unnecessary killing.
“In Guatemala under Bush Sr. and Clinton ,” Nairn writes, “the U.S. backed the army’s G-2 death squad which kept comprehensive files on dissidents and then electroshocked [sic] them or cut off their hands.”
This is just one example of the gruesome list of human rights violations Nairn said were conducted by U.S.-sponsored interrogators. And Nairn said he doubts that Obama’s new executive order will abolish all, or even most, of the incidents of torture endorsed by the U.S. government.
“Obama’s executive order bans some, not all, U.S. officials from torturing but it does not ban any of them, himself included, from practicing torture oversees,” Nairn said.
Paul Craig-Roberts, political columnist and former assistant secretary of the treasury under Ronald Reagan, is equally doubtful of any success in efforts to prosecute U.S. government officials for war crimes. In his Jan. 26th Counterpunch article, Craig-Roberts said Obama himself has committed war crimes when he ordered the cross-border attacks on Pakistan that resulted in the deaths of 20 civilians, three of whom were children.
If his administration prosecuted Bush for war crimes, Craig-Roberts said, not only would Obama be hypocritical, but he would have to go against the entire ruling elite of America.
“Obama would have to take risks that opportunistic politicians never take in order for the U.S. to become a nation of law instead of a nation in which the agendas of special interests override the law,” Craig-Roberts said.
Still, when violence and brutality in American culture is so pervasive, it is naïve to expect our leaders will uphold the laws of the Geneva Conventions, those noble agreements that set the grounds of proper conduct for law-abiding nations.
John Diviney, Ph.D., professor of history and Latin American studies at Flagler College, said throughout the history of American warfare, both our citizens and our military have participated in acts of torture and unlawful aggression. Pointing to the fact that many of these instances were in response to merciless acts carried out by those we were fighting, Diviney said the problem is that Americans wish to uphold international human rights laws in the heat of battle, but their comrades might not receive the same fair treatment.
“The Geneva Conventions are there… for the humane treatment of prisoners. How do countries who’ve signed [them] treat the ones who haven’t?” Diviney said.
Diviney said while countries should uphold the agreements of the Geneva Conventions, “They are unenforceable.”
But they are only unenforceable when we live in a culture that values the ruthless acquisition of resources over respect for the peoples of the world. If the United States continues to engage in acts of aggression to uphold the business interests of millionaire CEOs, we Americans can continue to expect acts of terrorism in retaliation. And no matter how much we torture, or how many people we indiscriminately kill in the name of democracy, we cannot change the fact that we create our own enemies.
When it comes to the hypocrisy of fighting terrorism as a rogue state, I can’t help but think of a quote by the famous critic of American foreign policy, Noam Chomsky, “If the Nuremburg trials were applied today, then every postwar American president would have to be hanged.”