The Abuse Excuse

The U.S.'s war on terror is "bankrupt of vision and bereft of principle," says Amnesty International.

| Thu May 27, 2004 3:00 AM EDT

The United States’ war on terror is "bankrupt of vision and bereft of principle" and amounts to "the most sustained attack on human rights and international humanitarian law in 50 years."

That's the verdict of Amnesty International’s annual report on human rights abuses. The document, released on Wednesday, surveys human rights conditions in 155 countries and finds no shortage of violations -- running the gamut from extrajudicial execution, reckless killing of civilians, torture, and detention without judicial process, to "disappearances" and hostage-taking -- committed by armed groups and governments alike. But it singles out the U.S. for particular criticism, citing the extralegal incarceration of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, among other human rights lapses.

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William F. Schulz, Amnesty's executive director, says that "the 'war on terror,' which President Bush says has made America more secure, has devolved into a global street brawl with governments and armed groups duking it out, as innocent civilians suffer severely," and the report itself claims that "the USA and its allies purported to fight the war in Iraq to protect human rights – but openly eroded human rights to win the "war on terror."

In part the sin has been one of omission. Irene Khan, the secretary general of Amnesty International, says that the war in Iraq -- the "central front, as George Bush would have it, in the war on terror -- not only led to a new wave of abuses, but has diverted attention from other troubled areas.

"While governments have been obsessed with Iraq they have allowed the real weapons of mass destruction - injustice and impunity, poverty, discrimination and racism, the uncontrolled trade in small arms, violence against women and children - to go unaddressed."

Indeed, another report, this one by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, says that occupied Iraq is a breeding ground for Al Qaeda and worldwide terrorism. The report says that Al Qaeda claims more than 18,000 potential terrorists and a presence in more than 60 countries. IISS also warns that Iraq is facing a "security vacuum."

The IISS report is also concerned that the money directed toward "security" efforts could be going toward efforts to improve basic living standards and to improve quality of life. The report says:

"Iraq and the "war on terror" have obscured the greatest human rights challenge of our times. According to some sources, developing countries spend about US$22 billion a year on weapons and, for $10 billion dollars a year, they would achieve universal primary education. These statistics hide a huge scandal: the failed promise to attack extreme poverty and address gross economic and social injustice."

In addition, government repression and brutality continues against the Uygurs in China and Islamists in Egypt, while gross violations of human rights go unchecked in "forgotten conflicts" such as Chechnya, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nepal.

The Amnesty report also addresses the human rights violations occurring in the Israel/Palestinian conflict. The toll of killings, including killings of children, continued to rise - around 600 Palestinians killed by the Israeli army; around 200 Israeli victims, many the victims of suicide bombings.

Another crisis at hand is the pattern of massive human rights violations found in the far western region of Sudan. The U.N.’s commission on Human Rights documented the abuses and reported them at the annual meeting of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. The commission decided to suppress the report. Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College who has appeared several times before Congress on the ongoing crisis in Sudan writes in In These Times:

"But the end result was that the commission released an innocuous and meaningless statement that failed to condemn the government of Sudan for its role in orchestrating the vast human destruction in Darfur. This continues a pattern of callous failures that have rendered the U.N. Commission on Human Rights hopelessly irrelevant in fulfilling its nominal mandate. But willful ignorance can do nothing to diminish what U.N. aid officials are now describing as "the world's greatest humanitarian crisis."

One positive outcome the report identifies is that human rights activists have managed to form a "worldwide web of solidarity" to globalize the struggle of victims of abuses, and it is increasingly difficult for perpetrators to go unchallenged.

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