Our human rights vs. The Others


Glenn Greenwald


Laura
Silsby, one of the 10 Americans arrested while trying to bus children
out of Haiti, exits a police car outside the court building in
Port-au-Prince.

February 14, 2010

(updated below – Update II)

Ten American Baptists were arrested two weeks ago in Haiti
on charges that they exploited the chaos in that country by attempting
to smuggle 33 young Haitian children across the border without
permission — either to bring them to a life of Christianity or (as some evidence suggests) to filter them into a child trafficking ring.  National Review‘s Kathryn Jean Lopez is deeply upset
by the plight of at least one of the detained Americans, Jim Allen,
whom she contends (based exclusively on his family’s claims) is
innocent.  Lopez demands that the State Department do more to "insist"
upon Allen’s release, and — most amazingly of all — complains about
the conditions of his detention.   She has the audacity to cite a Human
Rights Watch description of prison conditions in Haiti as
"inhumane."  Lopez complains that Allen was waterboarded, stripped, frozen and beaten has "hypertension," was shipped thousands of miles away to a secret black site beyond the reach of the ICRC and then rendered to Jordan allowed to speak to his wife only once in the first ten days of his confinement, and was consigned to years in an island-prison cage with no charges
denied his choice of counsel for a few days (though he is now duly
represented in Haitian courts by a large team of American lawyers).

You know what else Human Rights Watch vehemently condemns as human rights abuses?  Guantanamo, military commissions, denial of civilian trials, indefinite detention, America’s "enhanced interrogation techniques," renditions, and a whole slew of other practices that are far more severe than the conditions in Haiti about which Lopez complains and yet which have been vocally supported by National Review.  In fact, Lopez’s plea for Allen is surrounded at National Review by multiple and increasingly strident attacks
on the Obama administration by former Bush officials Bill Burck and
Dana Perino for (allegedly) abandoning those very policies, as well as countless posts from former Bush speechwriter (and the newest Washington Post columnist) Marc Thiessen promoting his new book defending torture.  Lopez herself has repeatedly cheerled for Guantanamo and related policies, hailing Mitt Romney’s call in a GOP debate that we "double Guantanamo" as his "best answer" and saying she disagrees with John McCain’s anti-torture views, while mocking human rights concerns with the term "Club Gitmo."  And National Review itself has led an endless attack on the credibility
of Human Rights Watch, accusing it of anti-Israel and anti-American
bias for daring to point out the human rights abuses perpetrated by
those countries.

What’s going on here is quite
clear, quite odious, and quite common.  It goes without saying that
because he hasn’t yet had a trial, Allen could be perfectly innocent,
or he could be guilty of some rather heinous crimes — just as is true
of Guantanamo detainees held for years without charges or a
trial (indeed, even with Haiti virtually destroyed under rubble, Allen
— unlike GITMO detainees — is receiving full due process).  Why would
National Review — which endorses far worse abuses when
perpetrated on Muslims convicted of nothing — take up the cause of an
accused child smuggler and possible child trafficker, and suddenly find
such grave concern over detainee conditions?  Or, to use their warped vernacular, which equates unproven accusations with guilt, why would National Review be advocating for the rights of child kidnappers and child traffickers?  Because, as a Christian, Allen is deemed by National Review
to deserve basic human rights, unlike the Muslim detainees whose (far
worse) abuse they have long supported [in stark and commendable
contrast to National Review, Southern Baptist leaders are also demanding
that the Obama administration do more to secure the release of Allen
and his fellow prisoners, but they at least have standing and
credibility to do so, as the National Association of Evangelicals, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the leading Southern Baptist ethicist all condemned Bush policies as "torture" which "violates everything we stand for," although they did that quite belatedly].

All of this is reminiscent of the single greatest act of self-satire
I encountered since I began writing about politics:  in September,
2006, three Indonesian Christians were convicted in a regular
Indonesian court of a brutal terrorist attack that left 70 Muslims
dead, and they were sentenced to death.  Michelle Malkin and various
other right-wing agitators — who not only cheered on every radical
Bush/Cheney denial of due process and punishment without trial for
Muslims, but demanded even more extreme measures — righteously took up
the cause of these Christian Terrorists, expressing "grave doubts
raised over the fairness of the trial," citing "irregularities" in the
trial they received, and even calling upon the "International Criminal
Court in Geneva" to intervene — seriously (this behavior
from GOP Sen. Mel Martinez, in a different case, was quite similar). 
The very same people who have been demanding for years that Muslims be
imprisoned for life, tortured and killed with no trials or charges of
any kind suddenly become extremely sensitive to the nuances of due
process and humane detention conditions — they start sounding like
Amnesty International civil liberties extremists — the minute it’s a
Christian, rather than a Muslim, who is subjected to such treatment. 
Lest anyone think these glaring double standards are driven more by
nationality than religion, National Review — along with most of their comrades — supported the full denial of due process in the case of Jose Padilla, a U.S.-born American citizen and Muslim who was tortured to the point of insanity, and it now does the same with U.S.-born American citizen and Muslim Anwar al-Awlaki, whom the U.S. is currently trying to assassinate.

The only thing worse than
someone completely indifferent to human rights abuses when committed by
their own government is someone whose concern for such matters is
dictated by the religion or other demographic attributes of those whose
basic rights are being denied.  That’s the same mentality that leads
our media to treat American journalists held by Evil Foreign
Governments for a few weeks under dubious circumstances as screeching headline-making news, while ignoring almost completely those foreign (Muslim) journalists held by the U.S. Government for years
without charges.  How many Americans know and are outraged about Iran’s
detention of Roxana Saberi, all while being completely ignorant of the
numerous Muslim journalists held for years by the U.S., including a
Reuters photojournalist, Ibrahim Jassam Mohammed, finally released last week
after being held by the U.S. military for 17 months with no charges and
even after an Iraqi court ordered him released?  It’s the same
mentality that allows the U.S. Government, with a straight face, to
issue reports condemning as "torture" the very techniques we used, to protest indefinite detention, extra-judicial killings and lawless eavesdropping when engaged in by other countries, and to demand that other countries
prosecute their war criminals and torturers in the name of "the rule of
law" (while our own are feted on TV shows and given regular newspaper
columns to glorify the torture and other war crimes they implemented).

Would you rather be an American
wrongfully accused of child trafficking even in the post-earthquake
Haitian justice system (complete with lawyers, access to courts, and
full due process), or a Muslim wrongly accused of Terrorism by the U.S.
Government (and put in a black hole for years with no rights)?  To ask
the question is to answer it.  The primary duty of a citizen is to
protest bad acts by their own government.  If you’re
acquiescing to or even endorsing serious human rights abuses by your
own government, then it’s not only morally absurd — but laughably
ineffective — to parade around as some sort of human rights crusader
when it comes time to protest the treatment of one of your own, however
you might define that.  It might produce some soothing feelings of
self-satisfaction, but nobody will remotely take that seriously, nor
should they.

 

UPDATE:  Numerous
commenters have argued that factors other than religion — such as
American exceptionalism, race and Terrorism fears — play a role in
these double standards.  That’s undoubtedly true.  As usual, it’s self-blinding, adolescent tribalism that is driving this behavior (my group is better),
which is what I meant when I criticized those who endorse human rights
abuses for Others but then "parade around as some sort of human rights
crusader when it comes time to protest the treatment of one of your own, however you might define that."
 I didn’t mean to imply that religion was the only factor at play here.
 It clearly isn’t.  But in this particular case, it’s a significant one.

 

UPDATE II:  For
more on the specific motives governing the behavior in this case, and,
more generally, the role which self-absorbed tribalism plays in these
debates, see Digby’s excellent analysis from today.


Link: www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/02/14/haiti/index.html

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