The terrorists were targeting us, George W. Bush asserted after 9/11, because “they hate our freedoms.” Within just a few years, however, those very freedoms were under siege by the Bush administration, and in an ironic and depressing twist, some of the world’s most brutal dictatorships were citing American methods as the justification for repressing their own people.
As Human Rights First reported in 2004 (“End Secret Detentions”), Zimbabwe’s monstrous leader, Robert Mugabe, in “agreement with the Bush Administration’s policies in the ‘war on terrorism,’ declared foreign journalists and others critical of his regime ‘terrorists’ and suppressed their work. . . .”
The report also noted that in Eritrea, “the governing party arrested 11 political opponents, held them incommunicado and without charge, and defended its actions as being consistent with United States actions after September 11.”
And though the world has long since learned of the CIA’s “renditions” and secret prisons, along with our torturing of suspected terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan, the president addressed the UN General Assembly in September as if he still had something to teach the world about preserving human rights. With a straight face, Bush urged world leaders to pressure the United Nations to uphold its human-rights mandate, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Assuming the mantle of the UN founder Eleanor Roosevelt, a human-rights warrior, Bush told the General Assembly: “In Belarus, North Korea, Syria, and Iran, brutal regimes deny their people the fundamental rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration. . . .”
The president neglected to mention that Syria is one of the countries to which the CIA has sent suspects kidnapped in Europe to be tortured for information. The Syrian delegate to the UN must have been hard-pressed to suppress a smile.
And, as National Public Radio’s Michele Keleman reported that day regarding the response to the president’s invocation of moral outrage, Robert Mugabe himself, who was at the UN, said of preacher Bush:
“He has much to atone for, and little to lecture us on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. His hands drip with blood of many innocent nationalities, and today with the blood of the Iraqis.”
(President Mugabe, meanwhile, has been so busy terrorizing his own people that huge numbers have fled the devastated country, while many of those remaining are near starvation.)
Also responding to President Bush was Felipe Pérez Roque, the foreign minister of Cuba, where dissenting journalists, labor organizers, human-rights workers, and independent librarians are herded into Fidel Castro’s gulags for sentences of 20 years or more. Said Castro’s accomplice: “He [Bush] authorized torture at Guantánamo Naval Base and at Abu Ghraib, and he’s an accessory to the kidnapping and disappearance of people as well as to the [CIA’s] secret flights and the clandestine prisons. . . .”
As Malcolm X once said in another context: “The chickens are coming home to roost.”
Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell—who warned Bush of the likely consequences of the black sites and torture he authorized—put these responses to the president in another light: “I do think [this] is a reflection of what’s happening to America’s image, and ultimately America’s power.”
Among the many American reactions to what the Bush administration is doing to diminish the world’s trust in us was a February 2 Los Angeles Times editorial, “No More Renditions,” which declared: “The Bush administration cannot afford further self-inflicted damage. Due process remains a fundamental Western value. . . . There can be no more disappearances, no more renditions.”
But Colin Powell’s successor as secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, staunchly avows that we do not send people to countries where we know that they’ll be tortured. And the leading Republican presidential candidate, Rudy Giuliani, who supports “coercive interrogations,” echoes the next attorney general, Michael Mukasey, when he says that he doesn’t know whether waterboarding is actually torture.
Try it for 90 seconds, Rudy, and let us know.
And in a long New York Sun put-down of the new movie Rendition, which portrays a CIA kidnapping, Michael Fumento writes: “In reality, ‘rendition’ merely means moving someone from one country to another outside formal extradition laws. The process could be abused, but you’ll find it defended in the pages of the Washington Post by a senior fellow from the liberal Brookings Institution.”
Gee whillikers, a senior fellow—and a liberal to boot! The Sun‘s reporting is often first-rate, but its editorial and op-ed pages sometime stray from inconvenient reality.
Speaking for others around the world who have very reluctantly lost faith in our nation’s current leaders is Kees Schepers, in an October 10 letter in
The New York Times.
Writing from Antwerp, Belgium, he says: “The United States, once a close ally, is now a country to be feared. The interrogation methods President Bush acknowledges to exist are undoubtedly torture, no matter how often he repeats that they are not.
“As a European, I am now afraid to visit the United States and will not do so unless I have to for my work, for fear of doing something wrong at the airport and being detained for a prolonged if not indefinite period of time. I also do not dare to express critical views on e-mail messages to American colleagues and friends, for fear they will get in trouble with authorities.
“This is how my contacts with the United States, a once friendly nation, have evolved.”
On the same letters page, Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a leading litigator to restore the Constitution, reminds voters in the next presidential election that “Congress, by its actions and inactions, is the handmaiden of the torture program. . . . Congress, even under the Democrats, has yet to hold even one hearing regarding the responsibility of high administration officials.”
Quite simply, the next president will have in his or her hands both the safety of this nation and the future of our individual liberties. And the winner may well have several Supreme Court vacancies to fill. As an atheist, I can’t say “God bless America.” Instead, it’s all up to us.