Bush Supports Human Rights, Press Sees Hypocrisy

McClatchy Newspapers is running a story with the headline “Bush astounds activists, supports human rights.” Here’s the lede:

President Bush implored the United Nations on Tuesday to recommit itself to restoring human decency by liberating oppressed people and ending famine and disease.

Speaking before the United Nations General Assembly, the president called for renewed efforts to enforce the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a striking point of emphasis for a leader who’s widely accused of violating human rights in waging war against terrorism.

Bush didn’t mention the U.S. prisons in Afghanistan or at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. practice of holding detainees for years without legal charges or access to lawyers, or the CIA’s “rendition” kidnappings of suspects abroad, all issues of concern to human rights activists around the world.

“At first read, it’s little more than an exercise in hypocrisy. His words about human rights ring hollow because his credibility is nonexistent,” said Curt Goering, the deputy executive director of Amnesty International USA. “The gap between the rhetoric and the actual record is stunning. I can’t help but believe many people in the audience were thinking, ‘What was this man thinking?’ “

Seriously?

I’ve long argued against the use of torture for terrorist suspects and for affording at least minimal due process rights for detainees at Gitmo and elsewhere. Some of these policies are morally and legally dubious and all of them are, in my view, counterproductive.

The United States is fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s allowed to take prisoners under international law. There is quite a bit of ambiguity, though, in the treatment of combatants who fight without identifying uniforms and insignia and who illegally use the non-combatant civilian population for cover.

For the most part, the United States is complying with international law and affording these people the treatment normally reserved for legitimate prisoners of war. While the abuses at Abu Ghraib were arguably made more likely by policies at Guantanamo and elsewhere, they were nonetheless crimes and treated as such. The courts have, too slowly in my view, dealt with the due process issues.

But, my word, what kind of hack news organization can’t see the distinction between those things and the mass genocide of Darfur? Can a leader not simultaneously believe that extraordinary measures are necessary to protect his people from a very real enemy and yet oppose slaughter, oppression, and famine?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Cernig says:

    James,

    I think you’re being rather naive in your defense of Bush. A man who robs corner stores clearly isn’t in the same league as someone who commits serial murders – but then again, if the first man says he supports the rule of law then he should be exposed as a hypocrite. Even if he says it’s the only way to feed his family.

    U.S. allies, the UN and top international Geneva Conventions law experts have said that the interrogation techniques and detention methods the U.S. has used in the War on Terror are illegal under international law and the Conventions. It’s not a Holocaust, but it’s still a crime. In practise, only the power (diplomatic, military, economic) of the U.S. protects the U.S. from sanctions and the Bush administration from international legal measures of recourse.

    For the Decider of those policies to claim to support human rights – and be defended because he hasn’t committed larger atrocities – is hypocrisy.

    Regards, C

  2. yetanotherjohn says:

    Actually, the geneva convention is not at all ambiguous about “the treatment of combatants who fight without identifying uniforms and insignia and who illegally use the non-combatant civilian population for cover”.

    Following the Geneva convention, they would be shot. The fact is that the US is not following the Geneva convention by extending to these people the rights awarded to those who fight according to the geneva convention rules.

  3. biffparcells says:

    Cernig,

    Just because the president takes actions that are arguably illegal under “international law,” , does not mean that he is a violator of human rights, necessarily. There is a huge difference between not affording an individual the legal right of habeas corpus after they are captured as a combatant and a military junta in Myanmar that has vowed to suppress a group of monks’ human right to peacefully protest through violence. I feel I have to disagree with your basic premise, because human rights are different and far tantamount to international legal rights.
    -Biff

  4. Andy says:

    “the treatment of combatants who fight without identifying uniforms and insignia and who illegally use the non-combatant civilian population for cover”.

    Define combatants. That is the problem, and you gloss it over. We “captured” hundreds of people in Afghanistan alone who were innocent civilians sold to us for bounties.

  5. Mithras says:

    I am sure the Sudanese government believes that “extraordinary measures are necessary” to protect their people from the rebels of Darfur, too. They just don’t have the resources of the U.S. to open a Camp X-Ray or enlist foreign governments in the torture and disappearance of prisoners into secret prisons across the globe, so they have to resort to more straightforward methods. And if Joyner were Sudanese, he’d be shocked that the press couldn’t see the obvious justification for his government’s actions.

  6. Michael says:

    The United States is fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s allowed to take prisoners under international law.

    Ok, so we’re at war, presumably with an identifiable entity, right? I mean, we can’t be at war in Afghanistan and Iraq without being at war with _someone_ in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    There is quite a bit of ambiguity, though, in the treatment of combatants who fight without identifying uniforms and insignia and who illegally use the non-combatant civilian population for cover.

    Only the people we are at war with are also labeled as illegal combatants, so we don’t have to afford them POW status.

    So this is what we have: A nebulous war with no well defined enemy and no defined end goal, where we can attack anybody we feel is an “enemy” even if they are not associated with a government or uniformed military, and if they’re not in uniform we don’t have to treat them according to the Geneva conventions, and we can hold them as long as we continue this war without end?

    I’m sure somebody will correct me where I am wrong.

  7. Cernig says:

    Biff,

    These things are crimes entirely because they are violations of internationally agreed protocols on human rights.

    And I don’t think “tantamount” means what you think it does, here.

    Regards, C

  8. Cernig, if we followed the Geneva Conventions in full, we would not only be able to detain at G’itmo indefinately (ie, till the end of the War on Terror), but be able to summarily execute them. Under the conventions, they could be considered spies, as they wear no uniform of any country while fighting. At the least, they do not have to be considered prisoners of war, and accorded treatment as such, because of that uniform thing.

    As far as the hack thing goes, the media will do anything to portray Bush in a negative light.

  9. Hal says:

    But, my word, what kind of hack news organization can’t see the distinction between those things and the mass genocide of Darfur?

    I suppose that one might ask in response, “But, my word, what kind of hack blogger can’t see that the press wasn’t making an editorial comment?”

    Seriously James, this isn’t an opinion piece by McClatchy. So, right off the bat, the title of this post is completely erroneous. It’s not the Press claiming hypocrisy, it’s the human rights activists that the piece is quoting.

    As to the actual hypocrisy claim itself and your incredulous response to it, I would only point out that this is the reason why there aren’t gray areas in torture. It’s all too easy to lose the moral high ground if you start cutting corners. You can claim – if you want – that it’s all mixed up and blah blah blah realism, etc. But as Mithras points out, pretty much every government on the earth is going to have the same justifications for their actions. This the whole point of the “high moral ground”. If you start resorting to excuses for your actions, then you’ve lost it.

    It’s part and parcel of the whole human behavior and why people simply just don’t take someone’s word that “they’re doing the right thing”. Actions speak louder than words, and our actions have shown that we’re just as willing as everyone else to chuck our “high moral principles” out the window when – say – we’re attacked. We’re more than willing to – say – round up people and put them in internment camps. Well, we haven’t started the last one yet, but a whole lot of people on your side of the aisle think it’s a great idea and we did have that incident in our past which shows that we are more than capable of doing this and not even blinking an eye.

    Again, have your fainting spell if you like, but really – it’s no mystery.

    Oh, and change the obviously erroneous title of your post. Again, it’s not the press that you’re having a problem with. McClatchy is simply reporting – not editorializing.

  10. James Joyner says:

    McClatchy is simply reporting – not editorializing

    Oh, c’mon. This is the classic case of the press having an agenda for a story and then getting quotes to support that agenda. That Human Rights Watch is criticizing the United States government isn’t exactly news. It does, however, serve as a convenient tool for an editorial policy that wants to make a splash criticizing the president.

    And, again, I have dished out plenty of criticism to the president on these policies. But please.

  11. Andy says:

    Cernig, if we followed the Geneva Conventions in full, we would not only be able to detain at G’itmo indefinately (ie, till the end of the War on Terror), but be able to summarily execute them.

    Again, you’re completely glossing over the fact that many of the detainees are not known to be combatants beyond the word of people who may have sectarian or tribal conflicts with their prisoners.

  12. Cernig says:

    Teach,

    Under the Conventions you still cannot summarily execute anyone, even a spy out of uniform. That’s a common misconception. You have to conduct a trial using international standards of jurisprudence, including habeas corpus, if you want to be in compliance with the Conventions. Not to comply with the Conventions, however, is the very definition of a war crime.

    I’ve no problem with conducting proper trials of detainees, with the full panoply of law and evidence in open courts. If found guilty of war crimes themselves, or even espionage (the definition is tougher than just that no uniform rule) then by all means punish them to the full extent of international law, including the use of the death penalty where appropriate.

    May I suggest that the current administration’s refusal to do exactly that has very little to do with a wish to be nice to detainees and far more to do with obsessive secrecy and paucity of evidence in many cases?

    Regards, C

  13. Hal says:

    This is the classic case of the press having an agenda for a story and then getting quotes to support that agenda.

    How so? Did the events that they are reporting not happen? Were the quotes that they are reporting not uttered? Was this some obscure event that went unreported and then was brought out of the dark closet and propped up?

    No. It was a big event, it was a prominent event and it was an event where getting quotes from the people they did was perfectly appropriate.

    I know you *think* it’s a “classic case”, but really James, that’s *your* bias. That’s your “classic case” of putting your own interpretation where there is no evidence to support that interpretation. That’s why this is a “hack” blog post. You don’t really have any evidence for this, you just have your completely unsupported opinion that they had an agenda and warped reality to conform to it.

    WRT your so called criticism, it’s just my opinion, but you’re criticism is really quite soppy and wet. Yes, you’ll state X, but then you’ll add so many qualifiers and such that the “criticism” seems to be little more than a patina to hide behind when the wind changes direction so that you can say you “criticized” the issue in question.

    But that’s beside the point. I’m sure in your mind your a vocal critic of torture and such and I’m certainly not going to change your mind on that perception.

    But wrt your post title, you’re living in the realm of pure unsupported fantasy and conspiracy theories. You’re certainly entitled to such beliefs and flights of fancy, but it’s just fun to point out that you don’t have a lick of evidence to support your claims and you really are out on the full length of the limb here, relying on your own biases for the secret decoding of the McClatchy piece.

    Bravo.

  14. Triumph says:

    James, Bush’s words about promoting were especially insulting given the fact that right after his speech he sent Condi Rice to engage in talks with Berdimuhamedow–the Turkmenistanian dictator.

    The discussions–as reported by the Financial Times–were limited to ways in which the country can export natural gas. For Bush to talk about “liberating oppressed people” and then try and hatch economic deals that will bolster one of Asia’s most repressive regimes is hypocritical and indicative that Bush’s words are nothing but bloviating blather.

  15. Michael says:

    At the least, they do not have to be considered prisoners of war, and accorded treatment as such, because of that uniform thing.

    Does the Geneva conventions specify what qualifies as a uniform? And does it have to be a uniform of a recognized government? Or is a uniform that which the opposing force deems a uniform?

    This is the classic case of the press having an agenda for a story and then getting quotes to support that agenda.

    Not entirely unlike rounding up a bunch of quotes against an entity you disagree with, no?

  16. Tlaloc says:

    Can a leader not simultaneously believe that extraordinary measures are necessary to protect his people from a very real enemy and yet oppose slaughter, oppression, and famine?

    No.

    You respect human rights or you do not. Paying lip service in one case while violating them in another makes you (i.e. Bush) exactly what the AI spokesman claimed: a hypocrite.

    Saying “I believe extraordinary measures are necessary to protect my people” is right up there with “I will make the trains run on time.”

  17. Michael says:

    And, again, I have dished out plenty of criticism to the president on these policies.

    I’m not sure what point you were trying to make with that statement. Is that a claim at neutrality or objectivity? Or just trying to say “It’s not my fault, I was critical of those policies”, even while being supportive of keeping those policy makers in their position to make more flawed policy?

    I hope it was a claim at neutrality, since we all want to believe that our opinions are unbiased, but at the same time we all, even you, have to realize that they are not unbiased, and maybe being critical sometimes isn’t always enough.

  18. Anderson says:

    Does the Geneva conventions specify what qualifies as a uniform? And does it have to be a uniform of a recognized government? Or is a uniform that which the opposing force deems a uniform?

    I am a little puzzled about that myself. People in general seem to think they know just what’s in the Geneva Conventions, regardless of the actual text. I blame Hollywood.

  19. Michael says:

    (3) Members of regular armed forces who profess allegiance to a govern-ment or an authority not recognized by the Detaining Power.

    Al-Qaeda members would seem to qualify as having POW status under this category. So would Taliban fighters unless the US did in fact recognize the Taliban as a government or authority over it’s fighters, in which case they would qualify under the first category:

    (1) Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces.

  20. Grewgills says:

    Re: “enemy combatant” rights
    Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions covers insurgents.
    Under the definitions set forth in that document those fighting against the US and the respective governments in Iraq and Afghanistan qualify as insurgents.

    Bush and co. have (apparently) deliberately refrained from calling them insurgents precisely because it would be an admission by them that the protections set forth in Protocol II apply.

    The civilians caught up in indiscriminate raids or sold to the US by warlords are due more protections under the Geneva Conventions than are the insurgents. Again labeling them “enemy combatants” is being used as a strategy to avoid giving them the rights they are due under the Conventions.

    In short, neither group is receiving the rights that are supposed to be guaranteed under the Conventions we agreed to abide by.

  21. Steve says:

    No. It was a big event, it was a prominent event and it was an event where getting quotes from the people they did was perfectly appropriate.

    Yes, but I was always taught that the press was not to bring their own prejudices into their reporting and that they demonstrate this by reporting both sides of a story. I’m sure there were responsible representives that did not view Bush’s words as hypocritical. Why weren’t they quoted? Because this story was a flagrant hidden agenda editorial.

    Wait, maybe I’m too hasty or harsh. Maybe the author was limited in the space he had to write his story and he just ran out before he could enter the other quotes.

    James’ headline should stand as is.

  22. Tlaloc says:

    Yes, but I was always taught that the press was not to bring their own prejudices into their reporting and that they demonstrate this by reporting both sides of a story. I’m sure there were responsible representives that did not view Bush’s words as hypocritical. Why weren’t they quoted?

    Because the president himself stands as the quote for “his” side. Duh.

  23. Hal says:

    I’m sure there were responsible representives that did not view Bush’s words as hypocritical. Why weren’t they quoted?

    Um, Steve, did you actually – you know – READ the linked McClatchy piece or did you – you know – just ASSUME you already knew what it said from reading the small outtake from Jame’s post?

    In addition to plenty of the quotes in the piece coming from Bush himself, as Tlaloc points out

    Still, some groups, such as the bipartisan One: The Campaign to Make Poverty History, praised Bush for calling for a recommitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    Total quotes:

    Bush: 8

    AI: 1

    Bush Supporter: 1

    Linda Jamison: 1

    note that Jamison’s quote isn’t negative and hasn’t anything to do with the “hypocrisy”.

    Because this story was a flagrant hidden agenda editorial.

    Actually, it’s because you simply didn’t read the piece and projected your own biases onto it that you came to your conclusion.

    Quite stunning to see such a “classic case” of bias projection right here in the middle of a discussion about such issues.

    Bravo.

    Given the above auditing, it’s pretty hard to see how James comes to his conclusion regarding the “classic” nature of the McClatchy piece. Perhaps he can enlighten us as to his analysis techniques and what measurements he uses to come to the conclusions he has.

  24. Kent says:

    … Curt Goering, the deputy executive director of Amnesty International USA …

    Sometimes irony is so thick you can cut it with a knife.

    Not that it has any real significance.

  25. Hal says:

    Not that it has any real significance.

    Other than it allows you to propagate, in an underhanded and perfectly camouflaged fashion the common right wing meme that AI is a bunch of nazis.

    Yes, the irony is rather thick at this point.