United Nation’s Report Condemns The United States For Human Rights Violations, Including Blocking Prosecution Of Those Responsible For Torture

President_Barack_Obama150px-OHCHR_logoThe United Nation’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has issued a report slamming the United States on torture and surveillance — the last international condemnation of the United States that is now viewed by many as a threat to civil liberties and international law. This follows international reports condemning the Obama Administration for its attacks on the free press and Internet freedoms. The demand for action on torture revives one of the greatest failures of the Obama Administration when the President, shown after taking office, assured CIA employees that no one would be investigated or prosecuted for torture despite the existence of international treaties obligating us to carry out such prosecutions. The President has admitted (as is clear from domestic and international rulings) that water boarding is torture. What is fascinating is that those who continue to defend this Administration dismiss the criticisms of respected international public interest groups, award-winning journalists, and even United Nations organizations in such condemnations. It is part of what has become a blind loyalty for an iconic president over long-standing principles. As noted by a widening array of organizations and experts, Obama has proven a perfect nightmare for civil liberties — once a core and defining area for Democrats and liberals alike.

The report chastises the United States for an array of concerns from harsh sentencing for juveniles to drone attacks to global surveillance. Amnesty International’s U.N. representative noted that “The U.S. is adept at demanding human rights change from other governments, while failing to meet international standards itself.”

On torture, the report found that the evidence of a torture program by the United States is clear and called for an investigation and prosecution of members of the “armed forces and other agents of the U.S. government.” While there should be no need to remind this country: “The State party [the United States] should ensure that all cases of unlawful killing, torture or other ill-treatment, unlawful detention, or enforced disappearance are effectively, independently and impartially investigated, that perpetrators, including, in particular, persons in command positions, are prosecuted and sanctioned, and that victims are provided with effective remedies.” Only a few principled Democratic members have denounced Obama for his blocking of the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for torture.

torture -abu ghraibI have previously written about the cynical calculation that led to Obama blocking the prosecution for those responsible for the torture program. He knew such prosecutions would be unpopular, and with so many constitutional principles since that time, he just did not see the value in adhering to principle (even those embodied within binding treaty obligations). Since Obama ran on a civil liberties platform, many expected an independent torture investigation as soon as he took office. After all, waterboarding is one of the oldest forms of torture, pre-dating the Spanish Inquisition (when it was called tortura del agua). It has long been defined as torture by both U.S. and international law, and by Obama himself. Torture, in turn, has long been defined as a war crime, and the United States is under treaty obligation to investigate and prosecute such crimes.

However, such a principle did not make for good politics. Accordingly, as soon as he was elected, Obama set out to dampen talk of prosecution. Various intelligence officials and politicians went public with accounts of the Obama administration making promises to protect Bush officials and CIA employees from prosecution. Though the White House denied the stories, Obama later gave his controversial speech at the CIA headquarters and did precisely that. In the speech, he effectively embraced the defense of befehl ist befehl (“an order is an order”). As I have written before (here and here), the Obama Administration has destroyed some of the core Nuremburg principles, particularly in its revisal of the “superior orders defense” to excuse U.S. officials.

The appearance of torture in the list of criticisms in the report shows that the world has not forgotten our towering hypocrisy in this area and the President’s decision to shield our own officials from prosecution — even after CIA officials admitted to destroying evidence of torture to protect themselves from any later investigation. China now regularly cites our own torture program — and the protection of U.S. officials responsible for the program — to defect criticism of its own programs.

What we have lost in the last decade is not simply clarity in dealing with human rights and civil liberties but credibility in voicing what were once undeniably American values.

80 thoughts on “United Nation’s Report Condemns The United States For Human Rights Violations, Including Blocking Prosecution Of Those Responsible For Torture

    • Dredd, your confidence is misplaced about Reagan upholding the laws. His FIRST campaign stop was to Philadelphia, MS where the three civil rights workers were murdered. That was to send a message that no further Federal interventions would be coming for murdering folks they did not like. Cheney knew Reagan FAR better than you or most of us, so I will take his word for what Reagan would or would not do. Then I also remember Reagan’s CIA ordering the murder of a US citizen, Ben LInder, in NIcaragua while he was working on a micro-hydroelectric power system for rural areas since he was a civil engineer. Then we have his CIA bombing US journalists in Nicaragua attending the Pastora press conference in that country. We also have the mass murder he ordered to proceed in Argentina and told them to do it quickly and massively. Since I did not know Reagan, I will have to take the words of those who did, and his actual deeds, such as going ahead with laying a wreath at the graves of the SS troops who murdered nearly one hundred GIs who they had taken prisoner during the Battle of the Bulge. So please forgive me if I think that Reagan would have been quite happy to torture.

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