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Guantánamo Bay

John Simkin

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Marcel Berlins

Wednesday March 22, 2006

The Guardian

Last Thursday, the general assembly of the United Nations voted to set up a new human rights council, to actively promote, monitor and supervise the delivery of human rights in the member states. Only four countries voted against. The US was one. The others were Israel, the Marshall Islands (population 59,000) and Palau (population 20,000).

Last month, the report of a UN inquiry into Guantánamo Bay called on the US administration to shut the prison down, because of its constant flouting of all the international laws and human rights principles governing prisoners, not least the prohibition of torture. The report was immediately, contemptuously and curtly rubbished by the US authorities, who pointed out that the five UN envoys had not spoken to any of the Guantánamo detainees, so how could their conclusions be accorded any validity? The reason why the envoys had not interviewed any prisoners was that the authorities had denied them access. (Instead, they spoke at length to freed prisoners, and to doctors and lawyers who had been there.)

In a lecture under the auspices of "Justice" on Monday, Mary Robinson - former president of the Irish Republic and former UN high commissioner for human rights - pointed out the telling coincidence that on the same day that the Americans spat on the UN inquiry's report, China, for the first time, opened its prisons to allow in international human rights inspectors. And yes, they were able to talk to the prisoners.

This does not mean that China has suddenly become a country that firmly adheres to all human rights principles, but it does demonstrate a depressing trend. As many countries with historically poor human rights records are being persuaded to relax their restrictive regimes and treat those under their control, including detainees, better, the US is travelling in the other direction. This is not to deny that there are still many worse governments in the human rights league (Zimbabwe, Belarus, Cuba and a lot more), but to trace the decline of the US.

Of course they have had to take certain steps; they had 9/11. But there was no need to go as far as they have done. In her lecture, Mary Robinson made the point that by meeting lawlessness (the terror attacks) with illegality (I take it that she meant the invasion of Iraq, as well as the treatment of Guantánamo detainees), the US was surrendering the high moral ground, which (I add) it has taken two centuries to establish and develop, and the principles of which it has been trying to instil into other nations.

I think it is more serious than just ceding the moral heights. What I believe may be happening is not just a proportionate adjustment to new circumstances, but a shift in a nation's fundamental morality. The changes started with the US government and have trickled down insidiously to the people.

It isn't just the disdainful way the administration treats its critics, whether they be the UN, other governments, or individuals. Nor is it the actual legal and administrative measures taken in the name of the so-called war against terrorism. Bad laws, after all, can always be reversed. What worries me more is attitudes. There is an awful description in use about the present situation - the "new normal". It means that life after 9/11 is not the same as before and, by implication, can never be the same again. The new normal encompasses a diminution of human rights, the relegation of the rule of law, not caring whether or not individuals against whom state action is taken are innocent, and the acceptance of personal restrictions and impositions that were once the hallmark of less civilised nations. Anything goes and everything is permissible - in the cause of war.

In theory, when the danger of terrorism recedes, those attitudes (and the practical steps taken by governments and other institutions wielding power) will shift into reverse, and America will leave the troubled land of new normal and return to normal. But that won't happen. Too many attitudes will have become ingrained, too many old moral precepts will have disappeared.

Occupations of foreign countries come to an end, and one day even Guantánamo Bay will be emptied. Political, military, legal and financial priorities and policies will change. But what I fear is that the brutalised morality of the country will take far longer to heal.


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  • 2 months later...

Since this article was published there has been a report issued by the Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog stating that 14 European States have colluded with the CIA in the transprtation of detainees. It also states that Poland and Romania are likely sites of detention camps.

Ireland is named among the 14 countries, with Shannon airport acting as a stopover for US aircraft and most likely, CIA opeations.

The very fact that the US military uses Ireland as a stopover point on its way to Iraq is a violation of Irelands neutrality.

Inspections of us flights landing in Irish territory are not allowed.

An article detailing the report and its full contens can be found here. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/5056614.stm

Not only is the US conducting the illegal torture of detainees, it is also dragging neutral nations into its foreign policy.


Edited by John Geraghty
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  • 5 months later...

The United States routinely votes against peace and human rights resolutions in the UN general assembly and it routinely vetoes peace and human rights resolutions in the UN security council.

Check the history of the UN and it can be seen that the US stands alone as the biggest obsticle to security, peace, and human rights with the highest total vetoes and votes against these very important issues.

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