What Has Happened To Our Nation On Human Rights?

But what moral standing can we in the United States claim, if when it comes to our own abuses, we fall silent or bury the evidence rather than rooting it out of our policies?
03/06/2017 09:32 am ET Updated Mar 06, 2017
THOMAS WATKINS via Getty Images

As an American activist for many years, I have always taken it for granted that torture is just not for the USA. Then 9/11 struck and suddenly we were for it. The government of President George W. Bush got lawyers to rewrite the law. Then, two psychologists were hired and paid to make the newly attempted wording occur. The Washington Post revealed that $71 million was paid to the consulting firm created by the two psychologists and all hell was let loose on primary and secondary targets. Pain went up for prisoners of the American government and internationally pain set in on the face of Americans who knew this was wrong ― this new use of torture became a recruiting tool for those who want to harm us.

At the same time, another message went out to foreign governments, namely that the USA approved of torture, and that meant more serious pain for the prisoners taken into custody by governments in other parts of the world.

We now have a President who approves of torture, but thank God, whose advisers tell him “Ah, no, no.” So far, Trump has listened. President Obama, on the other hand, stopped torture and returned this barbaric practice to its rightful place ― banning it. In his turn at the game of fighting terrorists, Obama took the approach of using drones, not torture. So while many terrorists have been vaporized rather than tortured, there have been thousands of innocent people vaporized as well.

Obama also buried the unabridged “Torture Report” which was redacted out of the Senate Report on Torture; he also prohibited incriminating photos of torture from being shown to the American public. Senator Feinstein argued in opposition to this shrouding of the facts to no avail. President Obama buried the torture report in his papers so they will not see the light of day for many years to come. To me, it simply looks like a cover up.

The issue is not just getting right and clear about the use of torture by the CIA. After all, just recently, The New York Times reported that the new deputy director of the CIA, Gina Haspel oversaw the torture program and got promoted for doing it.

The honest moment in human rights work is the telling of the truth of what governments do to people. If the facts and stories of harm are hidden, there is no accountability. As the Executive Director of Amnesty International and now as the Director of Human Rights Action Center, it has been my job to expose human rights abuses in governments around the world. But what moral standing can we in the United States claim, if when it comes to our own abuses, we fall silent or bury the evidence rather than rooting it out of our policies? Public accountability is paramount to the integrity of the nation.

If George W. Bush’s defined torture approach was implemented, we need the facts to prosecute the offenders. Without reports and facts, time marches on with no accountability, while the world watches and prays for our nation to be what we say we are ― namely, a protector of human rights.

But given that Trump is for torture, and that George W. Bush’s Gitmo offenses won’t come to light at least until 2029, can we assume that the American Presidency has walked away from human rights ― period?

Is the end result that, when tested, the American people also support torture? Peek at the job of Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights: when was the last time that office did anything at all about changing the policies of torture, drone strikes, or accountability for the American actions at Gitmo and the “black” sites in four different countries.

Maybe we just don’t want other governments to torture but believe if our “boys” do it, it’s all right. After all, Bush and Trump have not acted to stop the ancient and banned practice of governments destroying their own citizens. And while Obama did not torture, he has buried Bush’s record of torture. That is not good enough.

As the left and right regroup after the 2016 election, human rights must be in the discussion. We cannot stand up when Republicans abuse human rights and then not speak out when Democrats are complicit. When governments say, “We must balance human rights with security,” one must realize that argument is so lopsided it’s not even worth discussing.

Simply stated, the George W. Bush administration legitimized and used torture; Obama covered it up; and Trump, like Bush, is all in favor of torture. And, apparently The American people approve of it too since they elected Trump after he made it abundantly clear he was for torture. Every tear of every torture victim is a cry for justice.

Draw your own conclusion. I made my mind up. We are failing George Washington, all our military leaders, as well as both international and national law. The city on the hill is sliding.

How far will we allow it to drop? It’s up to you, Dear Reader.

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