Foreign policy, legal, and human rights authorities
are raising serious questions about the credibility of the U.S.
State Department's annual report on human rights, released last week.
Noah S. Leavitt, an attorney who has worked with the International Law Commission
of the United Nations in Geneva and the International Court of Justice in The
Hague, told IPS: "The sad reality is that because of the [George W.] Bush
administration's haughty unilateralism and its mockery of international prohibitions
on torture, most of the rest of the world no longer takes the U.S. seriously
on human rights matters."
While most of the experts contacted by IPS found little fault with the accuracy
of the so-called Country Reports, whose 2005 edition ran to more than 3,000
pages, they question whether U.S. human rights abuses committed in the "global
war on terror" have diminished Washington's authority to speak out on this
"The State Department's annual human rights report was once a beacon of
truth for American policymakers as well as the rest of the world," said
Patricia Kushlis, a retired official of the U.S. Information Agency.
"But how can it now be seen as anything more than a sham when the Bush
administration consistently breaks our own laws from illegal wiretaps
at home to renditions abroad yet still tries to portray itself as the
protector of freedom, democracy, and liberty for all?" she said in an interview.
An Egyptian activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity because her views
are at odds with those of her government, told IPS, "We're used to the
iron fist of government in Egypt. We expect it. We used to have someone we could
count on to show our leaders how to lead by setting an example of good governance
without the iron fist. It was America."
"Now that's gone," she said. "Now, the only people who are motivated
by what America is doing are the very people it's trying to defeat Muslim
The report, released in Washington March 8, reviewed human rights achievements
and setbacks in some 190 countries and regions around the world. It called the
human rights records of key Arab allies poor or problematic, citing flawed elections
and torture of prisoners in Egypt, beatings, arbitrary arrest and lack of religious
freedom in Saudi Arabia, and floggings as punishment for adultery or drug abuse
in the United Arab Emirates.
Iraq's performance was said to be "handicapped" by insurgency and terrorism
that affected every aspect of life, the State Department said.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United
Arab Emirates (UAE) last month. She praised these nations for being "strategic
partners" in U.S. anti-terror operations.
The relationship between the U.S. and the UAE became the center of a political
firestorm last week regarding a Dubai company's plans to take over terminal
management operations at six U.S. seaports. Despite strong support from President
Bush, the UAE ultimately backed out of the deal under pressure from Congress
to block it.
Introducing the Country Reports, Rice said, "How a country treats its
own people is a strong indication of how it will behave toward its neighbors.
The growing demand for democratic governance reflects a recognition that the
best guarantor of human rights is a thriving democracy," with rights such
as accountable government and a free press.
But Samer Shehata, assistant professor of Arab Politics at the Center for Contemporary
Arab Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, told IPS, "The U.S.
has lost a tremendous amount of credibility in any discussion of human rights
and rule of law. I can't imagine anyone in the Middle East or the 'Muslim World,'
for example, taking the State Department report seriously."
"After all, how can you take a report on human rights seriously written
by a nation-state that is currently perceived to be among the most egregious
violators of human rights and rule of law in the world?"
"Everyone remembers Abu Ghraib and no one has forgotten about Guantanamo,
especially not in the Middle East," he added.
A similar view was expressed by Dr. Jack N. Behrman, emeritus professor at
the University of North Carolina and a former senior official in the administration
of President John F. Kennedy (1961-1963).
He told IPS, "The U.S. has forfeited its leadership on human rights as
a result of the maxim that 'You must be careful whom you select as your enemy,
for you will become like them.'"
"Washington has adopted fundamentalist religious views in its opposition
to Muslim fundamentalism. It has practiced torture, deceived and dissembled,
promised to assist those harmed by its policies (or lack thereof) and done little
or nothing, and harmed and killed many innocents in an effort to dictate how
others should live. All of these are practices by 'autocratic and evil empires'
that this administration has copied extensively."
Members of the religious community have also raised doubts about U.S. authority
in the human rights area. George Hunsinger, McCord professor of theology at
Princeton Theological Seminary and coordinator of Church Folks for a Better
America, told IPS, "It is tragic that the United States has so recklessly
squandered the moral authority it once had in the field of human rights."
"Nothing could be more urgent than for us to reaffirm our historic commitment
to international law. A democratic nation that refuses to cry out against its
government's complicity in torture and abuse and to ban them without loopholes
is approaching spiritual death."
Some commentators have raised questions about the report's completeness, as
well as the issue of U.S. credibility. Neil Hicks, director of international
programs for the legal advocacy group Human Rights First, expressed concern
about what he termed "a blind spot" in the reports reporting
on states that send people to countries where they are at risk of torture.
He told IPS, "Numerous governments have apparently cooperated with the
U.S. in rendering detainees to countries that are known for their use of torture.
This is a clear violation of the UN torture convention, but it is not mentioned
in the report."
Hicks called the report "admirable and comprehensive," but told IPS
it is "regrettable that U.S. violations of human rights undermine their
credibility and effectiveness, and make it easy for governments rightly criticized
in the reports to point the finger back at the U.S."
Some foreign governments are also using Washington's diminished authority to
criticize the State Department report. The Chinese government-controlled People's
Daily Online accused the U.S. of "posing once again as the world's judge
of human rights."
It said, "The State Department pointed the finger at human rights situations
in more than 190 countries and regions, including China, but kept silent on
the serious violations of human rights in the United States."
(Inter Press Service)