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“A Morass Of Human Rights Abuses”: Gitmo Is A Stain On Our Reputation For Upholding Human Rights

In his first presidential campaign, President Barack Obama pledged to close the infamous U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where torture has been practiced and due process flouted. The reviled facility is a stain on our reputation as a beacon for human rights and as a role model in a world where the innate dignity of the individual is still not universally accepted.

With his pledge to shut it down, Obama was merely building on the stated desire of his predecessor, George W. Bush, who knew the facility was a source of embarrassment for our allies and a recruiting tool for our enemies. Back then, Obama’s view was shared by his rival, GOP presidential nominee John McCain, who also pledged to close the prison.

But as president, Obama badly bungled the process, failing to make closing Guantanamo a priority and misjudging the inflammatory politics that are associated with the suspects who are held there. He was deserted not only by McCain, but also by Democrats who claimed — speciously — that bringing suspected terrorists into the continental United States was much too dangerous to consider.

In the final year of his presidency, Obama has returned to the incendiary politics of Guantanamo, promising again to shutter the prison. He has less chance of success now than he did when he began eight years ago. Since then, congressional Republicans have grown more rabid in their opposition (to everything), the GOP electorate has sunk into a miasma of xenophobia, and the terrorists of the so-called Islamic State have risen up to haunt our nightmares. Congress has passed laws making it virtually impossible to transfer Guantanamo detainees to prisons in the United States.

Still, Obama is right to bring the facility to the top of the national agenda. He has little leverage but his bully pulpit, little authority but the moral force of this righteous crusade. That’s a start.

From the beginning, the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has represented the worst instincts of American leaders. In 2002, placing the first of nearly 800 terror suspects eventually held there, the Bush administration argued they were not subject to the protections of the Geneva Convention.

While the U.S. Supreme Court later disagreed, forcing the Bush administration to reverse itself, that arrogant and shortsighted abrogation of international norms gave our enemies good reason to call us hypocrites. And that was just the beginning of an appalling slide into a morass of human rights abuses: Some prisoners were tortured; some were held for years without formal charges; many were not, as the Bush administration initially claimed, captured on the battlefield, but rather turned over by Pakistanis and Afghans in exchange for money. Those men may never have raised arms against the United States or its allies.

Even the Bush administration eventually yielded to pressure and released or transferred more than 500 detainees. Obama has continued to reduce the population; an estimated 91 detainees remain.

But the very existence of the facility — “Gitmo,” as it’s often called — remains a blight on our reputation, a pall over the shining city on a hill. “Keeping this facility open is contrary to our values,” Obama said last Tuesday. “It undermines our standing in the world. It is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upholding the highest standards of (the) rule of law.”

He clearly means to use the last year of his tenure to keep pressure on Congress to close it, probably by speeding up the exodus of detainees. (While a handful of former detainees have returned to the battlefield, the vast majority of them have not.) He believes he can persuade other countries to accept an additional 80 or so, leaving only a few hard-core cases, men who are deemed too dangerous to release.

However, the cost of keeping them at Guantanamo would be exorbitant, as much as $10 million per detainee per year, according to some estimates. For a Congress that claims to be fiscally prudent, it ought to make a lot more sense to bring those men to a maximum-security prison in the United States, where they’d have no chance of escape.

That would keep us safe without destroying our ideals.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, February 27, 2016

February 28, 2016 Posted by | GITMO, Human Rights, Republicans, Torture | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Julian Bond R.I.P.”: A Voice Of Unflagging Witness For Peace And Human Dignity

It’s always a shock when someone who is an eternal symbol of precocity dies, especially when it’s at a not entirely inappropriate age. To most Americans Julian Bond, who died on Saturday at 75, was a civil rights leader known for his wit and urbanity, and for long service to the great cause of his generation. To Georgians who remember the 1960s, he was the preeminent figure who united the civil rights and antiwar causes, and black and white progressives, and invariably made his enemies look foolish and small.

A quick personal anecdote: my best friend in high school had her purse stolen when we were in downtown Atlanta participating in an antiwar protest. What upset her most was not the loss of money or ID, but the Julian Bond autograph she carried around with her.

His national celebrity was attributable to two events: first, the refusal of the Georgia House of Representatives to seat him upon his election to the body in 1965, allegedly on grounds of his sympathetic comments about draft resisters. The Georgia House was forced to accept Bond by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1966, shortly before that chamber helped elect the ax-handle-wielding segregationist restauranteur Lester Maddox governor of the state.

But Bond’s second big national moment was even bigger: in the chaos of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, after he was seated as a delegate via a compromise with a slate chosen by Maddox, his name was placed into nomination for vice president by the McCarthy-supporting Wisconsin delegation.

During the vice presidential balloting won, of course, by the nominee Hubert Humprey’s choice Ed Muskie, Bond sheepishly withdrew his name on grounds that he was well short of the constitutional age for the office of 35.

Bond went on to serve for two decades in the Georgia legislature, which he left to pursue a seat in Congress in 1986. That led to the low point of his career, a bitter and unsuccessful campaign against his old SNCC colleague John Lewis. It’s likely that Lewis–who remains in the House nearly three decades after that campaign–was the only person who could have defeated Bond that year.

The two old friends soon reconciled, and Bond went on to become president of the NAACP for ten years. Throughout his later years, Bond became a familiar face on television talk shows, the college lecture circuit, and controversial topics. He was a very important figure in securing civil rights movement support for LGBT equality and marriage equality, and his final arrest at a protest occurred just over two years ago, when he joined a protest at the White House against the XL Keystone Pipeline.

We will miss his voice and his unflagging witness for peace and human dignity.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 17, 2015

August 18, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights Movement, Human Rights, Julian Bond | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ted Cruz Loves Freedom, Liberty, And Dictators”: Loving Freedom While Applauding Ruthless Dictatorship

Republican presidential candidate and coloring book star Ted Cruz loves Egyptian dictatorship almost as much as he loves freedom and Candy Crush.

At Thursday night’s WWE-style Republican debate, the junior senator from Texas took a moment to praise the leadership skills and “courage” of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

“We need a president that shows the courage that Egypt’s President al-Sisi, a Muslim, when he called out the radical Islamic terrorists who are threatening the world,” Cruz said to an applauding audience.

It’s not the first time he’s praised Sisi—it’s is a common conservative meme to compare President Obama’s alleged weakness to the supposed manliness of strongmen abroad. And Cruz is far from the only Republican lawmaker to join the Sisi fan club. (Fellow 2016 contenders Mike Huckabee and Jeb Bush are pretty much on the same page.) But for all of Cruz’s talk about liberty and democratic freedoms at home, he is giving Our Man In Cairo a hell of a pass abroad.

Sisi—a strongman ruler practically minted in the U.S.A.—came to power in a 2013 coup that ousted the democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi, a leading member in the Muslim Brotherhood. Sisi’s armed forces then began a trigger-happy crackdown on Brotherhood members and supporters, and commenced the typical authoritarian kick of going after the press and imprisoning the opposition. (Morsi himself is waiting to see if his execution is imminent.)

Additionally, in an apparent effort to prove that his regime is even more “Islamic” than the Islamists he deposed, Sisi has presided over a campaign of persecution, prosecution and public shaming of LGBT Egyptians. It’s yet another brutal crackdown that has made Sisi’s Egypt a worse environment for gays than Morsi’s Egypt ever was.

And for all the repression and human-rights violations, his government has not managed to make the Egyptian republic any safer. “Sisi came to power on a platform of security and stability and clearly he’s failing—by any measurable standard, Egypt is more vulnerable to insurgency today than it was two years ago,” Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told The Daily Beast last month.

So what’s not to love, Senator Cruz?

The Cruz campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding how the senator squares loving freedom with applauding ruthless dictatorship.

 

By: Asawin Suebsaeng, The Daiyl Beast, August 7, 2015

August 8, 2015 Posted by | Dictators, Human Rights, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“No New Or Plausible Idea’s”: Cuba Diplomacy; Behind Right-Wing Outrage, An Intellectual Void

Listen carefully to the Republican leaders and presidential hopefuls roaring with outrage over President Obama’s courageous decision to normalize relations with Cuba; listen very carefully, because no matter how long or how closely you listen to them, there is one thing you will surely never hear.

You will never hear a new idea – or any plausible idea – about bringing liberty, democracy, and prosperity to the suffering Cuban people.

Instead, the furious denunciations of the president’s initiative from his adversaries reveal only an intellectual void on Capitol Hill, where the imperatives remain partisan and cynical. Everyone paying attention has known for decades that the frozen relationship between the United States and Cuba has accomplished nothing – except possibly the prolongation of the Castro regime, which has long considered the embargo a plausible excuse for its own economic failures – and viewed the United States as a politically convenient enemy.

Anyone who has visited the island knows that the Cubans wish nothing more than to see the embargo lifted, because they know it has done nothing to advance their liberty or prosperity – just the opposite.

As former president Bill Clinton likes to say, the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result. (He wanted to normalize relations as president, but the Cuban government clearly didn’t.) The U.S. government has been doing the same thing in Cuba for 54 years, yet the Republicans still don’t think that was long enough. They haven’t explained how or why – or when – their policy will achieve a different result.

Opponents of change have also failed to justify why treating Cuba so differently from other – and in various respects, worse – authoritarian regimes with which we maintain not only vigorous diplomatic relations but massive trading partnerships and even military cooperation. The conduct of those governments is arguably more repressive in important respects; there is, for instance, less religious freedom in China or Saudi Arabia than Pope Francis found in Cuba.

To browse human rights findings from the State Department’s annual reports or the online files maintained by groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International is to find at least a dozen countries with atrocious human rights records, from Chad to Turkmenistan. But the United States maintains diplomatic and trade relations with all of them.

Indeed, Republican leaders and businessmen – notably including members of the Bush family – have profited handsomely from investment in countries like China and Saudi Arabia for many years, with scarcely a peep about human rights violations in those places. It is impossible to forget how the first President Bush toasted the Chinese regime, immediately following the massacre in Tiananmen Square – and how his opportunistic family members showed up in Beijing and Shanghai, looking for a deal.

With the liberation of more than 50 political prisoners – along with USAID worker Allen Gross and an unnamed American spy – the Cubans have suddenly improved their human rights performance, while the Chinese continue to inflict horrendous repression and even torture on Tibetans, Uighurs, and Han Chinese who dare to dissent. (Many of our leading Republicans don’t object to torture, of course, unless it is perpetrated in foreign countries. Sometimes.)

House Speaker John Boehner accused the president of making “another mindless concession to a dictatorship.” What seems entirely mindless, however, is his insistence that we dare not abandon an unworkable and destructive strategy. No boycott observed and enforced by one country alone – even a powerful country like the United States – is ever going to prevail.

That is among the reasons why international human rights organizations, always the most consistent and implacable critics of Castro’s abuses, have long advocated engagement rather than embargo. As Human Rights Watch notes on web pages devoted to detailing those abuses, U.S. policy has imposed “indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban people” since 1961, “and has done nothing to improve the country’s human rights.”

Not long after the president concluded his historic speech – among the most lucid, logical, and inspiring he has delivered in his second term – a spokeswoman for Amnesty International called his new approach “the best opportunity in half [a] century for human rights change in Cuba.”

Designed to quarantine the Cuban government, the policy that failed for five decades has only succeeded in isolating the United States from the rest of the world. Its end is long overdue.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, December 19, 2014

December 20, 2014 Posted by | Cuba, Human Rights, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rights Are Not Entitlements”: Fundamental Human Rights Are Not Items That legislation Should Be Able To Take Away

As Americans discuss our system of social supports, we constantly hear the word “entitlements” and rarely the word “rights.” Of course, in America the word “entitlements” is not a neutral word. Rather, it is a loaded word, laced with specific attitudes and associations in both the speaker’s mouths and listener’s ears.

Instead of repeating facts about how America’s system of social supports is substantially smaller than nearly every other wealthy democratic country or the simple fact that America is the wealthiest country in the history of the world, it is important to pause to think about the concept of human rights.

A good starting point for thinking about human rights is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a declaration authored by a number of international delegates (including former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt) and adopted by the United States and other members of the United Nations in 1948. This document builds on other declarations of human rights that have occurred in the past including our own Declaration of Independence’s statement of the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

In our era of drone strikes without a judicial process, it is important to point out that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.”

In our era of for-profit prisons pushing legislation to increase America’s already world-leading incarceration rates even higher, our era of prison gerrymandering and prison labor, it is important to point out that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.”

In our era of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, it is important to point out that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”

In our era of attempts to slash support for the unemployed and aggressive attempts to dismantle the rights of labor to organize, it is important to point out that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”

In our era of attacks on America’s already minimal social security system, it is important to point out that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

There was a time when our nation eloquently wrote and spoke in support of the basic rights of humans yet we have consistently abandoned those words, time after time, action after action, century after century.

Often when someone suggests that America needs to slash “entitlements,” I find myself asking two simple questions, “What are the most fundamental human rights and what role should governments play in guaranteeing those fundamental human rights?” After all, fundamental human rights are not items that legislation should be able to give and take away with the stroke of a pen or the barrel of a gun.

 

By: Howard Steven Friedman, Open Salon Blog, Salon, February 28, 2013

March 4, 2013 Posted by | Civil Rights, Human Rights | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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