In an audacious display of hypocrisy, President Obama signed an executive order on September 28, 2010, imposing financial sanctions against eight Iranian officials for "serious and sustained human rights abuse" violations committed in the year since Iran's disputed presidential election. The order freezes any U.S. assets they might own and bars them from receiving a visa to travel to the United States.
According to Iranian opposition activists, detainees were tortured and raped while imprisoned. Iranian officials denied the charges. Whether the charges are true or not, what right does the United States, who has acted wrongly, either morally or legally - that is, who has 'unclean hands' - to complain about the human rights abuses of Iran or any other country?
Consider that on April 16, 2009, President Obama released four top secret memos that allowed the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) under the Bush administration to torture al Qaeda and other suspects held at Guanta'namo and secret detention centers round the world. Remember the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse? According to the memos, ten techniques were approved: attention grasp (grasping the individual with both hands, one hand on each side of the collar opening, in a controlled and quick motion); walling (in which the suspect could be pushed into a wall); a facial hold; a facial slap; cramped confinement; wall standing; sleep deprivation; insects placed in a confinement box (the suspect had a fear of insects); and waterboarding. In waterboarding the individual is bound securely to an inclined bench, which is approximately four feet by seven feet. The individual's feet are generally elevated. A cloth is placed over the forehead and eyes. Water is then applied to the cloth in a controlled manner which produces the perception of suffocation and incipient panic.
In the now-discredited August 2002 memorandum from then Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee to then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez narrowly defined physical torture as requiring pain "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, the permanent impairment of a significant bodily function, or even death."
And we all remember former Vice President Dick Cheney's comment that: "enhanced interrogation techniques" (a euphemism for torture) sanctioned by the Bush administration are not torture and dismissed criticism as "contrived indignation and phony moralizing."
Human torture is not only morally unacceptable it is also a crime. Waterboarding, for example, is explicitly prohibited by the Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions.
President Obama issued executive orders giving the CIA authority to continue what are known as renditions or extrajudicial, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to Egypt, Jordan, Morocco
and elsewhere, where torture was used. Torture is torture whether it is done by Americans at Guanta'namo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan, or by proxy through our rendition program.
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As of August 2010, there were still 176 detainees at Guanta'namo Bay being held without charges, many of whom have been held for years. In addition, 50 detainees are considered too dangerous to release, but cannot be tried because the evidence against them is too flimsy or was extracted from them by coercion, so would not hold up in court. Thus, these detainees will be held indefinitely without charges or trial. As Amnesty International declared, the United States has established a "a new gulag of prisons around the world beyond the reach of the law and decency."
And who can forget the U.S Army School of Americas (SOA)/, based in Fort Benning, Georgia, which trains Latin American security personnel in combat, counter-insurgency, and counter-narcotics. The SOA training manuals advocated torture, extortion, and execution. Is it any wonder that SOA graduates
were responsible for some of the worst human rights abuses in Latin America? In response to the controversy over SOA and protests by human rights activists, the SOA was officially "closed" in December 2000. But it reopened a month later as Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation - in the same installations, with the same staff carrying out the same work, and still remains in operation.
What is more appalling is that according to a poll commissioned by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, too many Americans, while still rejecting the use of torture for terrorists by a margin of 56 percent to 42 percent, shows the support for torture has increased by 6 points since 2008 and by 13 points since the ques tion was first asked in 2004. The poll seems to reaffirm a famous passage from Louis Brandeis in Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928):
"Decency, security, and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the means -- to declare that the government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminal -- would bring terrible retribution. Against that pernicious doctrine this court should resolutely set its face."
Until the United States puts its own house in order, it does not have the moral authority to chastise others for human rights abuses. Those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.
I was born in Massachusetts; graduated from Middlebury College and Suffolk Law School; served as an officer in the Vietnam war; retired from the Federal Trade Commission (consumer and antitrust law); travel extensively with my wife Judi; and since (more...
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