Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Destroying America

Over the last few years, we've seen disturbing glimpses of how the US treats top-level Al-Qaeda members, and how the war on terror has undermined its commitment to fundamental human rights. Inadvertant admissions by admininstration officials and leaks by insiders have painted a picture of rendition, children being held hostage as "leverage" to get their parents to talk, and outright torture. Now Human Rights Watch has assembled those hints in one place, and it's not a pretty picture:

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, the Bush administration has violated the most basic legal norms in its treatment of security detainees. Many have been held in offshore prisons, the most well known of which is at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. As we now know, prisoners suspected of terrorism, and many against whom no evidence exists, have been mistreated, humiliated, and tortured. But perhaps no practice so fundamentally challenges the foundations of U.S. and international law as the long-term secret incommunicado detention of al-Qaeda suspects in "undisclosed locations."

"Disappearances" were a trademark abuse of Latin American military dictatorships in their "dirty war" on alleged subversion. Now they have become a United States tactic in its conflict with al-Qaeda.


the use of forced disappearances and secret incommunicado detention violates the most basic principles of a free society. When Argentina tortured and "disappeared" suspected dissidents in the name of fighting what it characterized as "terrorists," it was wrong. When the United States tortures and "disappears" alleged terrorists, even those suspected of plotting the most terrible attacks, it is also wrong. That the terror being fought by the United States is of a different character does not change the illicit nature of the methods employed to combat it.

This represents a betrayal of America's fundamental values - "liberty and justice for all" - and ultimately a loss in the war on terror. Even during World War II or the Cold War - conflicts which posed a definate threat to the survival of the US as a nation - successive US governments refused to sell out those values because they recognised that it would in a real sense be losing. Now the Bush administration has sold them out in an eyeblink when faced with a small number of terrorists who, while they pose a threat to US interests and the lives of US citizens, pose no threat whatsoever to the US's survival. Despite the horrors of September 11th, Al Qaeda couldn't destroy America. But they didn't need to, when they had George W. Bush to do it for them...