Whether willingly or unwittingly, Americans have begun to sacrifice many of the rights they took for granted prior to September 11. Privacy. Due process. Dissent. Yet the annual Amnesty International Report released in May suggests the greatest casualty of September 11 and the Bush Administration's subsequent war on terrorism may be credibility.
As a moral authority, the U.S. can no longer rightfully wag a finger at human rights abusers around the world. "The year 2001 witnessed a direct challenge to long-accepted human rights standards by the very governments that campaigned for their establishment," the report notes. The most glaring "challenge" in the report involves the U.S. military breaching the rules of war in Afghanistan. On December 29, a United Nations spokesperson said that relatives identified 52 bodies, including 25 children, killed in the U.S. bombing of a village near the eastern town of Gardez.
The 300-page report, covering events of 2001, enumerates the executions, disappearances, torture, unlawful arrests and abuses, and lesser offenses committed by governments around the world. It also offers a brief summary of good news from 2001 including pardons, commutations, and the release of prisoners of conscience.
The report alleges that the U.S. government overlooked international human rights violations for the sake of increased national security. To form a coalition against terror, the U.S. refrained from criticizing repressive regimes, and silently consented to the abuses of its allies, including Singapore, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, India, and Malaysia.
"The horrific events of September 11 were a crime against humanity that shocked and changed the world. However, a number of governments jumped on the 'anti-terrorism' bandwagon and seized the moment to step up repression, undermine human rights protections and stifle political dissent," the report says.
According to an Agence France Presse review of the Amnesty report, coalition governments after September 11 "rushed through repressive new laws, increased the role of the military and promoted a pernicious climate of racism in the name of security." The U.S. and Britain created new legislation "defining new crimes, banning organizations and freezing their assets, curbing civil rights, and reducing safeguards against violations."
A chart titled "Eight Significant Human Rights Failings of the U.S. Government that Undermine its Global Leadership on Human Rights," notes the use of military tribunals and secret trials and the mistreatment and indefinite detention of immigrants being investigated in connection with the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Among the general "failings" unrelated to September 11, the report charges the U.S. with offering safe haven to torturers, mistreating asylum seekers, and exporting tools for torture to other nations. It goes on to say "the actions of the U.S. government provide a de facto green light for other nations to ignore fundamental human rights standards."
"The U.S. government needs to recognize that its own record cannot be compromised ... if it intends to remain a global leader on human rights," Amnesty USA Executive Director William F. Shulz told the Washington Post. The London-based organization anticipates some backlash over the report in the U.S. "Amnesty is used to not being popular," he said.
Among other key human rights developments globally, the report notes that there are more refugees and less mercy for asylum seekers. Amnesty also spotlights the unlawful killings and torture by the IDC and Palestinian resistance groups in Israel and the Occupied Territories. More than 460 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces and 187 Israelis were killed by armed Palestinians.
In one of the more alarming statistics, the report cites that 3,048 persons were executed in 31 countries in 2001 and 2,468 of that total were killed in China, including many for non-violent crimes such as "bribery, pimping, embezzlement, tax fraud, selling harmful foods, and drug offenses."
While turning a blind eye to others, the U.S. may be covering for its own violations. The U.S. State Department website reports on prison conditions for each country. According to Sohail Mohammed, an immigration attorney representing some of the Immigration and Naturalization Service detainees swept up in connection with September 11, "The sections on secret detention in the 2001 report have been removed. Just compare 2000 and 2001," he said. "Take any country. Take Egypt. Information that has not changed for years is now reflecting a change. Conditions such as what we're imposing on our detainees — those are the sections that have been modified. You don't want other countries to be saying, 'how come you don't practice what you preach?'" Gabrielle Banks is Activism Editor of AlterNet.