Monday, January 24, 2011

Have Americans Become Human Rights Zombies?

I once knew what “human rights” stood for, and I upheld its banner with pride. But that was before I learned of American torture techniques in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison and Quantanamo Bay, or the meaning of such exotic sounding words as “extraordinary renditioning” and “torture by proxy.” What I see now, jetting around the world, peeping into dark corners in search of innocent victims of oppressive states, is the soulless corpse of the American human rights movement.

If the world’s only superpower, a wealthy nation of 301 million, suspends its most cherished democratic values, and invades two countries, to avenge the deaths of the 2,752 victims of the 9/11 attacks, then why should we expect better of less developed countries?

American outrage and calls for vengeance after the Twin Towers and Pentagon bombings set the course for the “War on Terror,"  the invasion of Iraq, (400 thousand civilian casualties) and the war in Afghanistan, in which estimates count non-combatant deaths in the tens of thousands.

The real issue isn’t whether Americans should keep their mouths shut about torture and other human rights abuses in China, Iran and elsewhere. It is rather, that we ask ourselves the question: “where can we be most effective, in East Timor, where few Americans even speak the native language of Tetum, or policing our own government’s human rights abuses abroad?

I do not condone the violation of human rights anywhere in the world. But neither do I support the State Department Office using the issue of human rights as a cudgel for U.S. diplomats, denying impoverished countries foreign aid because in a crisis they behave no better than we.

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