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Omid Memarian Headshot

Should Laura Bush Refuse to Speak at CFR on Human Rights?

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Laura Bush will address the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on December 10th, the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

At the time, some individuals in the Bush administration might face prosecution for a series of events that resulted in serious human rights violations, including the use of advanced interrogation techniques and destroying the life of hundreds of people in Guantanamo, Abu Ghoreib and other similar prisons, her speech not only reflects her image of "human rights" in the past eight years, but also tell us what she see of human rights in the years to come.

Weeks before her husband leaves the Oval Office, there are many who believe that President Bush should be held responsible for some of the policies and actions adopted by his Administration and his own decisions that endangered the lives of thousands of people.

Some even go further and anticipate a similar destiny for Bush, or at least a number of ranking members of his administration, as to that of Augusto Pinochet, Chile's former dictator who was arrested and prosecuted during a trip to London in 1998, individuals who directly legalized, legitimized and implemented those actions.

Under such circumstances, the CFR's offer and Mrs. Bush's acceptance to speak seem odd.

Everyone has moments where they must say "NO" and refuse honors, like speeches, because a "YES" answer simply does not make sense. People normally would say "NO" on certain occasions where their presence is at odds with the message being delivered, the audience, the timing and the representation they wish to leave of a person, family, group or institution.

It is similar to inviting John Yoo to speak on the condition of "individual responsibility" for lawyers, even though it is widely known that he played a role in adopting advanced interrogation techniques at Guantanamo. Or asking Dick Cheney to speak on the "importance of transparency and truth and the necessity of solid evidences in going to a war."

You might find yourself in a similar situation if you were invited to an academic conference or talk on a topic for which you had nothing to say. Or your talk might just make a caricature of yourself and add nothing to your reputation. You might be asked to be a speaker when really all you are doing just reading a few papers that speechwriters have written for you. Nobody in the audience believes what you say. You can simply read their eyes: "What the **** are you doing here?" This is a hint that you should have said "NO" to the invitation. These are times where it is advisable to politely say thanks, but no thanks.

I'm not sure which of these scenarios is applicable to Mrs. Bush. But in my humble opinion, the best respect she can give human rights and people who have spent their lives addressing these issues is to simply say thanks, but no thanks.

By saying "NO", she shows a huge respect for human rights and that she has a real understanding for what is going on in the world. Unless, of course, she decides to say something completely unexpected; if that's the case, she could be the best choice for such a talk. However, Laura Bush has never been an ambassador for issues related to human rights, nor does she have a record of challenging her husband or his administration's.