Thursday, May 24, 2007

Amnesty USA on Democracy Now: 2007 Annual Report

Amnesty USA director Larry Cox, being interviewed by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now, said some things that I think are quite pertinent, in placing the importance of the US in the global human rights context:

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think are the most important issues you want to highlight right now?

LARRY COX: Well, I think you’ve already highlighted them. I think the most serious challenge we have to human rights in practice and to the idea of human rights is unfortunately the open defiance by the United States, not because it’s the worst country in terms of human rights violations, but because its example is so powerful. It is a superpower, and when it openly defies human rights in the way that it has, openly violates the most fundamental human rights and justifies those violations, it spreads around the globe. It has a terrible impact.

AMY GOODMAN: You start with the Military Commissions Act.

LARRY COX: Well, the Military Commissions Act sort of brings together many of these practices: holding people without access to a court, without charging them, without trying them; setting up military commissions that can use evidence that has been obtained through coercion, that no normal court would accept; denying habeas to people, one of the oldest protections and a very important protection against abuse and against torture around the world. These are all practices that historically the United States in recent decades has criticized severely, when other countries have carried it out. Now, we’re doing it.

So where is our moral authority? Where is our credibility, when we got to Egypt, for example, and say, “You should not have military commissions,” when we go to Egypt and say, “You should not be carrying out torture,” when we have, in fact, sent people to Egypt knowing that they would be tortured?

He also touches on the issue of fear, keeping people in a state of fear in order to justify restrictions of civil liberties:

JUAN GONZALEZ: You say in the report that far too many leaders are trampling freedom and trumpeting an ever-widening range of fears, fears of being swamped by migrants, fears of being blown up by terrorists, and fears of rogue states with weapons of mass destruction. What about this issue of fear and its impact on populations not raising questions about any of this?

LARRY COX: Well, this is the central reality of the world we’re now in, where fear, instead of being met -- and there are, of course, legitimate fears that people have -- but instead of meeting those fears with effective ways of dealing with the causes of that fear, fear is being manipulated. Fear is being used, fear is being exaggerated, in order to justify what is, in fact, unjustifiable. You see it around the globe. You see it in China, where, you know, every time someone is arrested now, it’s terrorism. You see it in Russia, where, again, the threat of the conflict in Chechnya is now being used to widely justify restrictions on civil society. This use of fear is one of the most frightening aspects of the world we’re now living in.
As well, he deals with a US State Department official who dismisses the Amnesty report as having been drivent by ideology.

AMY GOODMAN: Larry Cox, the Bush administration has been fiercely critical of Amnesty's findings. On Wednesday, State Department spokesperson, Tom Casey, was asked about the report.

REPORTER: Have you read the Amnesty International report, which suggests that in the war on terror the United States has been eroding human rights around the world?

TOM CASEY: Well, George, I think people will take a good look at the report. Certainly, I don’t think anyone’s had an opportunity to review it in depth. Pretty clear that Amnesty International thought that we’d make a convenient ideological punching bag, and that’s something that isn’t, unfortunately, new.

I think we personally wish that Amnesty International would have been a little more willing to do things like try and help out the Iraqis, as they dealt with the trials of some of the worst war criminals who have been around for the last fifty years. And I think if you look at the report, unfortunately, it reads quite a bit more like a political document than a sort of honest review of human rights throughout the world.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the Bush administration. Your response, Larry Cox?

LARRY COX: Well, there’s nothing unusual about these kinds of attacks. We’ve been getting these kinds of attacks from governments all around the world every time we criticize their human rights violations. We don’t engage in ideology. We engage in facts. Now, we have, unfortunately, a very sad collection of facts about the United States. The United States has openly admitted having secret detention sites, even said it boastfully, and that it will continue to have secret detention sites, where people are kidnapped and taken. No one knows where they are. These are not things that Amnesty International has invented. These are the words of the President of the United States.

We know that if we criticize strongly what a government is doing when a government is doing something wrong, that we’re going to get these kind of attacks. There’s nothing really new about them. It’s just a very sad comment that instead of responding to these concerns, which are not Amnesty’s concerns alone, but virtually every UN body -- every other independent human rights organization around the world has raised the same charges. So you have to attack the entire body of human rights experts around the globe if you’re the United States, because we're all saying the same thing.

Finally, he discusses the effect of a lack of US leadership on the ability of the United Nations to take action on troublespots around the world:

JUAN GONZALEZ: And in terms of the ability of the United Nations to have any kind of impact on the human rights situation around the world?

LARRY COX: Well, the United Nations depends upon leadership. And one of the reasons that we are so adamant about what the United States is doing is the way it has weakened the ability of multilateral organizations like the United Nations to play an effective role. That’s most striking in the case of Darfur, where the world has stood by and watched, as, you know, massive human rights violations take place, and issued statements, but has not been able to put troops on the ground that can protect people. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is another one, where, you know, there has been no really effective move to correct a situation which continues to deteriorate. And US leadership has been so undermined by US practice that it’s hard to imagine how the US can now play a constructive role.

Read the full Amnesty annual report here.