America’s shame

The United States being hauled up before the U.N. Committee Against Torture in Geneva last month was a sharp reminder of how America’s reputation as a beacon of human rights has sagged in recent years.

There was a time when the United States could go on the offensive in international forums against countries that were human rights violators. It could do that since its position was solidly based on a strong record of respect of civil rights and deeply entrenched rule of law at home.

That base now no longer exists, and American professions of indignation at other countries’ violations of human rights have a tinny ring in the light of what has happened to the United States in that regard. It isn’t so much that the United States has taken strong measures at home and abroad in response to the 9/11 attacks and to seek to preclude other such events. That was normal. It is rather the degree to which the United States has violated its own previous standards of justice, in the name of 9/11, in the name of what is sold to the American public as defense of U.S. national security.

What it appears took place at U.S. military detention facilities that include Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and in the CIA’s secret prisons in Europe, plus the practice of U.S. captors turning prisoners over to countries where torture is openly practiced, are a shame to America.

At home, the Bush administration’s disregard of law in designating American citizens as enemy combatants, thus putting them outside of normal, traditional U.S. due process of law; its disregard of the legal requirement that a court approve wiretaps; and the hundreds of times that President Bush has followed signature of a law passed by Congress with a statement that he might, or he might not, carry out that law as Congress passed it are simply some of the ways in which this U.S. government has riddled governance by law in the United States over the past five years with holes like a rural highway sign that has stopped a shotgun blast.

And so the United States gets hauled up before a U.N. human rights tribunal. There is almost always an element of dishonesty in such U.N. institutions, given that their membership frequently includes countries whose own records on such subjects are morally degenerate _ the Zimbabwes, Sudans and Myanmars of this world.

All the worse that the U.S. record in that regard is now so bad that America, the land of the free, ends up in the dock, for torture.