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Human Rights in the US
June 13, 2003 8:18 AM   Subscribe

Amnesty International's 2003 Report on US isn't pretty - 2002 was not a good year for the United States. How do we, as a nation, deal with this situation?
posted by FormlessOne (47 comments total)

 
"How do we, as a nation, deal with this situation?"

I assume we condemn Amnesty International as anti-American for having the temerity to criticize the administration, and if they persist in their criticism, we inter them at Guantanamo Bay. And we boycott their products and change any expression that uses the word "Amnesty" to use the word "Freedom" instead.
posted by obruni at 8:25 AM on June 13, 2003


Well. . .Bush is one of the only people to ever fall off of a Segway.
posted by four panels at 8:29 AM on June 13, 2003


Looks to me like a country that could use a little "regime change."
committee to draft Barbara Boxer 2004
posted by planetkyoto at 8:36 AM on June 13, 2003


The amnesty page has links for reports on many other countries as well. It seems that human rights violations are unfortunately widespread around the world.

I really appreciate Amnesty's fact based reporting. Steering clear of rhetoric and assumptions gives them credibility, IMHO.
posted by jsonic at 8:38 AM on June 13, 2003


"How do we, as a nation, deal with this situation?"

By burying one's head in the sand, I suspect.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:05 AM on June 13, 2003


By acknowledging that America has done more good for more people than any other nation in history, and then taking the entire Amnesty report with a large grain of salt. There will always be a few exceptions to America's track record, and Amnesty has taken note of them. 'Nuff said.
posted by davidmsc at 9:11 AM on June 13, 2003


'Nuff said.

Or not.

This 'my country right or wrong' line gets on my nerves quite a bit. It's not 'America' the notion or the symbol that Amnesty International is examining, it's the government. This government is entirely capable of asking itslef how it can improve its human rights record (hypothetically speaking of course), however they cannot take credit for the historical acheivement of America or Americans. Thus they can't use that as an excuse for bad conduct in the present.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:16 AM on June 13, 2003


We don't listen to Amnesty International -- that's how we deal with it.
posted by alethe at 9:21 AM on June 13, 2003


So, if we 'acknowledge that America has done more good for more people than any other nation in history', then where do we start to draw the line?

How do we balance positive against negative? That just seems to be an argument about a line in the sand. Would a benevolent, religious man be any less punishable for committing a crime than another person?

Pretty much every country in the world has its various forms of human rights abuses, some serious, some not so serious. We can each judge where we think they lie on a scale of atrocity. But you certainly can't rest on your laurels, or let an administration garner the plaudits for acts committed by those that have gone before.
posted by blastboy at 9:28 AM on June 13, 2003


Just for fun, I checked the Amnesty report summary on Canada, the UK, France, and Germany. All four of these countries, which along with the US are probably the best examples of 21st-century democracies, have similar black marks against them.

Yes, I do think Bush is a chimp, and Ashcroft scares the hell out of me, but the USA is still the standard of democracy which other nations should strive to achieve. AI is always going to find problems -- that's their job.
posted by Jughead at 9:31 AM on June 13, 2003


We believe our leaders when they tell us that the Geneva convention violations at Guantanamo Bay don't count because those people are evildoers.
posted by kfury at 9:31 AM on June 13, 2003


Thank you davidmsc, well said.
posted by pjgulliver at 9:32 AM on June 13, 2003


If the point of this post is to discuss AI, then it wouldn't it have been better to use a different country as an example? But let's be honest here, that wasn't the point at all. The point was to repackage the same old PickOnAmerica... uhh? filter thread. Well done.

By the way, the health department will ALWAYS find violations in any food service establishment. When they show up during lunch rush, they're likely to find more.
posted by Witty at 9:51 AM on June 13, 2003


OT: It's rare but not all that hard to fall off a Segway if you're new to it, I think. When it happens, furthermore, it can be rather comical, since sometimes there is a brief period where rider and machine desperately fight against each other to restore equillibrium. Person tries to lean back over the Segway; Segway tries to wheel itself back under the person; both overdo it and the result is a rapid forward-backward flopping motion that persists until one of the parties gives up. Hi-larious.
posted by tss at 10:02 AM on June 13, 2003


I imagine our reaction will be to respond with hysterics instead of making an effort to keep things in perspective, as jughead has done.

The WOT is a serious problem, and while the current solution isn't by any means perfect, it may be tolerable over the short run, provided that it is criticized regularly.

Will the US eventually be more willing for other states to charge the jihadis it has in custody? Probably, if they get serious about the problem.

Last year, a group of jihadis were acquitted in the Netherlands because that country doesn't, um, have any laws against being part of a terrorist organization, no matter how much explosives are found. Unlike the US, where these guys can be prosecuted like mobsters under laws like RICO, many places don't have the tools to prosecute ongoing criminal activity.

Moreover, many places lack the US's robust approach to punishment. A German planner of 9/11 got 15 years for accessory to 3000 counts of murder. He could be out of prison before all the 9/11 orphans are able to drive.

Is it any wonder that the US is reluctant to give up control over these dangerous lunatics?
posted by ednopantz at 10:05 AM on June 13, 2003


Regardless of one's views on that timeless, crucial question: "USA: good or evil?", AI undermines the impact of their reporting when they group official US government detainments in Guantanamo with individual cases of police brutality. It's tough to hold the US government responsible when some local cop mistreats a suspect.
posted by twsf at 10:05 AM on June 13, 2003


By acknowledging that America has done more good for more people than any other nation in history, and then taking the entire Amnesty report with a large grain of salt.

That's right.

Oh sure, the indigenous got genocided, the exogenous got slaved, kids got indentured, Eden got raped, sovereign foreigners got invaded by our armies and our specially molded little lead balls, etc, etc....and "our interests" make it all OK right up to the present moment.....but let's not let little facts from history pave over that sandpile you and your friend's heads above crave so very badly.

Help! Help! The terrorists are after us! Civil liberties and justice be damned! Run away!


~chuckle~
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 10:18 AM on June 13, 2003


Just for fun, I checked the Amnesty report summary on Canada, the UK, France, and Germany. All four of these countries, which along with the US are probably the best examples of 21st-century democracies, have similar black marks against them.
AI is always going to find problems -- that's their job.

AI will always find problems but thats no excuse to make it easy for them to do so - it doesn't excuse the problems they do find. I also checked out quite a few other country reports, more in a spirit of seeing what would be a nice place to live. The black marks against countries seem much bigger for some than for others, and this is likely for a mix of reasons, both a reflection of size/population, position in the world, etc but there's still a step difference between countries which have institutionalised breaches of human rights and those that have problems relating to specific incidents or to ongoing social problems.
Some issues are complex and do not invite straightforward comparison, most democracies have for example, abolished the death penalty whilst in the US its continued use does not appear to be regarded as being in breach of human rights by the majority, and indeed is mandated democratically. How can these positions be compared? AI, by its nature makes certain assumptions and bases its reports concerning human rights upon these.

I agree with those that have suggested that this thread can be read as an excuse for an attack on the US, however, whether the intent was to do this or an attempt to discuss the problems relating to human rights breaches as they apply to the US, the second of these reasons is still a worthy subject for debate, as are the issues raised for each of our countries.

As for the US: Good/Evil question, surely one benefit of the AI report is that we can check where we are going and make sure its the right way. Constantly telling ourselves we are good regardless of our actions does not guarantee that we are.

the USA is still the standard of democracy which other nations should strive to achieve

Do you want to back this up, it just sounds ludicrous. What is your basis for comparison?
posted by biffa at 10:26 AM on June 13, 2003


OT: f&m, if I am ever somehow in the vicinity of your keyboard I am so totally stealing the tilde key and selling it on eBay.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 10:29 AM on June 13, 2003


There will always be a few exceptions to America's track record, and Amnesty has taken note of them. 'Nuff said.

So...what exactly are comments like this driving at? I'm getting a very disturbing impression that some commentors in this thread are reacting with "well, these things are bound to happen." Well, sorry, that's not good enough. Nor is the fact that the other guys are doing it too.

In the case of human rights, I prefer to cling to my saucer-eyed idealism, thanks. When you start accepting a certain margin of error, rather than trying to correct it, what are you saying? That a number of human rights abuses are okay? That's not good enough for me...and for those who think I'm "picking on America," well, I don't think it's good enough for America, either.

I'm not saying I think it's easy - or even possible - to get a 100% from Amnesty International. But dammit, we ought to at least be trying as hard as we can, for the sake of the nation just as much as that of the individuals whose rights are potentially violated. Otherwise we're giving up on the very ideals we're allegedly trying to protect.

This blase attitude towards potential flaws in the United States' actions is so much more insulting than any communist-leftie-nutjob-whatever you want to label us could ever be. It implies that the US can't do any better, or doesn't care enough about, dare I say it, freedom, to try. I, for one, prefer to expect better from my country.
posted by hilatron at 10:31 AM on June 13, 2003


There's always room for improvement. Acknowledge it, work towards bettering society and move on. The people who see no faults in the US annoy me as much as those that say it is the worst offenders of X in history.
posted by infowar at 10:31 AM on June 13, 2003


How do we, as a nation, deal with this situation?

In the American (with money) way!

We buy them off. If that doesn't work, then we ignore them and hope they get sick of their own voice.


Well. . .Bush is one of the only people to ever fall off of a Segway.

The Segway is calibrated to work with a normal person's sense of balance and expected them to stand up straight.

Are you implying that Bush is outside the norm?
posted by rough ashlar at 10:35 AM on June 13, 2003


All four of these countries [...] have similar black marks against them.
Similar? Come on ... 9 cases of alleged police mistreatment (Germany) is similar to detaining 600 people without ANY rights, thus violating the Geneva convention, denying prompt access to attorneys for a majority of another 1200 people, and the state-sanctioned killing of a further 69?
posted by c3o at 10:46 AM on June 13, 2003


Yes, foldy, America was founded on violence, just like every other nation on the damn planet. It's called human nature and there ain't a thing anyone can do about it.

But I'm sorry you don't like this place or the people who live here very much, there are other options.

As far as the report goes, next time we have a 9/11 style attack, we'll let AI defend us. They can write the Al Qaeda letters and stuff.
posted by jonmc at 10:52 AM on June 13, 2003


"How do we, as a nation, deal with this situation?"

Be sure to vote early and often.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:52 AM on June 13, 2003


By acknowledging that America has done more good for more people than any other nation in history

My vote goes to Iraq. Those Sumerians invented civilisation, you know.

;)
posted by plep at 10:55 AM on June 13, 2003


Or Greece (democracy, philosophy), or the Hebrews (a good chunk of the ethical and religious underpinnings of Western civilisation), or India (Buddhism - another great ethical tradition), possibly.
posted by plep at 10:58 AM on June 13, 2003


It's tough to hold the US government responsible when some local cop mistreats a suspect.

I dunno, it's till my head being kicked in, kind of feels the same no matter which level of government is writing the paycheque of the guy that's doing it.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:59 AM on June 13, 2003


The way we'll deal with this is to defame Amnesty International, and maybe take away any funding that we give them. Next question?
posted by zekinskia at 11:10 AM on June 13, 2003


Do you want to back this up, it just sounds ludicrous. What is your basis for comparison?

Wish I could point out a link, so apologies all around. My point is that as scary as the PATRIOT act and other steps towards a police state south of the border may seem, Americans still have, in the broad strokes at least, more freedom than average. I've always admired that about the USA.

Is the USA perfect? Of course not. Especially given the Bush administration's piss-poor excuses for the treatment of Camp X-Ray detainees, the 1200 or so people currently being held without adequate access to legal counsel (sadly, my own country is doing that too), and so on. Obviously there's a great deal of room for improvement, and changes must be made.

But let's keep a bit of perspective here. Think Kim Jong-Il would tolerate any discussion on North Korea's human rights record?
posted by Jughead at 11:15 AM on June 13, 2003


As far as the report goes, next time we have a 9/11 style attack, we'll let AI defend us. They can write the Al Qaeda letters and stuff.

But jonmc, AI are already defending us following 9/11 and would no doubt do so again if there was another one. It would be simplistic to suggest that the attacks were simply against physical infrastructure, they were also an attack on the ideals which (are supposed to) underpin the existence of the US. By allowing these ideals to be weakened the attack is proving to be damaging on an ongoing basis, albeit that some of the damage is done at the hands of domestic politicians. Attacks like these need to be vigourously defended against just as with physical attacks.
posted by biffa at 11:15 AM on June 13, 2003


As far as the report goes, next time we have a 9/11 style attack, we'll let AI defend us. They can write the Al Qaeda letters and stuff.

OK, then it's settled. Only the US military machine has the logistical righteousness to 1. hunt down Bin Laden and destroy Al Qeada for good. 2. dismantle the Taliban for good. 3. detain Hussein and round up Iraq's WMD before they can be passed on to "terrorists." 4. thwart the domestic anthrax attack and aprehend the suspect.

It is bothersome to me, as it was to Ben Franklin, that some people can sacrifice liberty for safety (or the illusion thereof). But it is sad and laughable that people assume the sacrifice of the former must neccessarilly be bringing the latter. Ashcroft can execute every brown person he sees, and it still doesn't safeguard the giant chloring tanks being guarded by rent-a-cops in my neighborhood.

For us to ignore or laugh away findings that tell us--in a non-political and more-or-less objective way--that we are failing to embody our ideals is a Candide-like lapse in our collective judgment. Since 9/11, vigilance has been the name of the game. Then let us not forget our constitution, perhaps history's greatest document of vigilance towards the state and the possible illiberal tendencies of the majority.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 11:18 AM on June 13, 2003


Thanks jughead, but I was keeping some perspective, that's why I was questioning someone's assertion that the USA is the benchmark for democracy. Clearly there are a lot of countries which are much worse and if you read my post you'll see that I do not say anything to the contrary. It's how it compares with other democracies that was of interest.

As for comparisons with North Korea, how many times does it have to be said in this thread - it doesn't matter how bad they are, it doesn't let Western democracies off the hook for their own failings.
posted by biffa at 11:26 AM on June 13, 2003


But I'm sorry you don't like this place or the people who live here very much, there are other options.

Where'd you pull that boilerplate, jonmc? Ann Coulter dot com? Don't forget to pay the royalties!
posted by zaack at 11:32 AM on June 13, 2003


Biffa - I don't believe the US should be let off the hook either. I just get annoyed when some people start yelling "Fascist!" when discussions of the US arise.
posted by Jughead at 11:43 AM on June 13, 2003


What Jughead said.^
posted by dhoyt at 11:52 AM on June 13, 2003


I just get annoyed when some people start yelling "Fascist!" when discussions of the US arise.

Hmmm.. ctrl-f f-a-s-c-i-s-t.. oh my, look who yelled "Fascist!" first. What is that, pre-emptive annoyance?
posted by Space Coyote at 12:08 PM on June 13, 2003


Where'd you pull that boilerplate, jonmc? Ann Coulter dot com? Don't forget to pay the royalties!

Oh please, I don't want to speak for jonmc, but haven't we all known someone who was in a relationship that made them miserable and that they constantly bitched about? Weren't you ever tempted to ask, "well, why are you still with them?" It's kind of the same deal. Asking why someone would want to live in a country they seem to despise so much is not the same thing as "love it or leave it!" It can just be an honest question. It's possible that F&M spends his every waking moment trying to make the US into what he thinks is a better place. Not that I would agree with his vision, but at least he wouldn't be the other alternative: someone who just bitches and moans about the US while enjoying the benefits living there provides. That seems a bit disingenuous to me.

And I know it's possible to rant and rail against a country because you love it and it's not what you want it to be, but how many of us really get that vibe from Foldy?
posted by Cyrano at 12:30 PM on June 13, 2003


I think that if you hate/detest/loathe America's foreign policy, and you have the privilege of being an American citizen, you kind of have a responsibility to stay here and try to change it. I can think of a few countries that I would sort of rather live in, but I'm American.

I have the right to stay here too.

If someone on this list would like to live somewhere where the people do not engage in political desent perhaps he/she would like to move to China or North Korea.
posted by goneill at 1:14 PM on June 13, 2003


Asking why someone would want to live in a country they seem to despise so much is not the same

For the ten-thousandth time, accusing us of despising America is a pathetic tactic. Speaking for myself and practically everyone I know, I love America, and would keep it true to itself, true to what makes it beautiful. I will oppose its enemies whereever they might be, and right now some of its most dangerous enemies would appear to be in the white house. They do not defend Americans, they attack Americans, and American principles They do nothing when others attack us, except run and hide while it's going on, and then use it as a pretext to further their agenda.

If you want to accuse someone of despising America and everything it stands for, start with Ashcroft. He belongs in a theocratic dictatorship. Change a few words and the costumes and he'd be right at home in Iran.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:06 PM on June 13, 2003


Okay, so now, after the first 10 sarcasm driping replies to the questions, what do we do, and how should we take this?
posted by Lord Chancellor at 2:24 PM on June 13, 2003


I don't have the background to solve the problems of US foreign policy, but to solve some of the human rights abuses I would make a few rhetorical suggestions. First off, something needs to be done with camp X-ray. It is quite simply a black mark on American political ethics and a PR nightmare. Terrorists are criminals and in America even criminals have rights. Those rights should be honored in some form. To call people "enemy combatants" or whatever is a unsophisticated attempt to define people in such a way that leaves them without rights. The prisoners at X-ray should either be treated as POWs or charged in the American court system.

Another helpful step would be to not use assination as a tool in the US campaign against terrorism. Unmanned drones firing missiles into cars is not going to help the US make allies. If anything the US policy of extra-legal execution is a form of terrorism in and of itself. This use of terrorism is wrong because it proves to many factions that terrorism works and is an effective means of combat.

The US should also try working with the UN to solve regional conflicts. This would do two things: put fewer US servicemen at risk and solve the problem of violating international law; that is, when international law is violated the US can blame the UN. Enemy combatants could be tried at the Hague, for example.

There will always be problems, true, but that is no excuse to not seek solutions. The US has given great things to the world, but that doesn't work as an exemption from moral questions, it means the US has earned the responsibility to defend freedom, democracy and human rights. If the Us chooses not to defend basic human rights, others countries will and the US's global standing will falter.
posted by elwoodwiles at 3:53 PM on June 13, 2003


accusing us of despising America is a pathetic tactic. Speaking for myself and practically everyone I know, I love America, and would keep it true to itself, true to what makes it beautiful.

amen. in fact, i'd go so far as to say that via my most critical, sarcasm-dripping castigations of the actions of this nation i display an authentic and fierce affection for it. on the other hand, i always find statements like that of davidmsc to be rather passionless, and indicative less of admiration for the nation itself than to some aspect or condition inherent in the nation which happens to personally benefit him.
posted by quonsar at 4:39 PM on June 13, 2003


You're not allowed to be serious quonsar... back to the shananigans with ya. :)
posted by Witty at 4:43 PM on June 13, 2003


There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.
--Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from Birmingham Jail"
posted by hippugeek at 8:38 PM on June 13, 2003


I'm surprised about all of the apologetics being thrown around. I agree that the US, relatively, isn't as bad as many other nations in the world, but the fact that one of the leading countries of the free world has *any* human rights abuses is unacceptable. As elwoodwiles so eloquently said:

There will always be problems, true, but that is no excuse to not seek solutions.

So we're great, excellent, but that is absolutely no reason to not try to make the situation even better.
posted by The Michael The at 5:29 AM on June 14, 2003


I hadn't realized how thoroughly accurate my "bury your heads in the sand" comment was going to be. How disappointing.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:51 AM on June 14, 2003


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