The UN Human Rights Committee regrets
In its first half, though, the UNHRC report focuses on human rights abuses by the federal government, all of them introduced by George Bush since September 11, 2001. The list is depressingly long (four and a half pages) and makes grim reading, even though it omits many outlandish administration practices that are merely illegal, unconstitutional, or just plain obnoxious. All too often, the report notes that the U.S. government has not supplied requested information to the Committee.
The Committee further regrets that the State party, invoking grounds of nonapplicability of the Covenant or intelligence operations, refused to address certain serious allegations of violations of the rights protected under the Covenant.
Reaction from the Bush administration was characteristically whiny…
"Our initial reaction is disappointment," said State Department official Matthew Waxman, who led a U.S. delegation to the hearing. He said the panel appeared to ignore much of the American testimony.
In a conference call from Washington, U.S. officials refused to confirm or deny reports that there have been secret detention centers in Europe and elsewhere.
Waxman denied allegations that the United States mishandles terror suspects. "Any idea that any United States or other detention operations or other activities in the war on terrorism are beyond the law is simply false."
[The UNHRC] loses perspective and credibility when it spends more time criticizing the United States than countries with no civil and political rights.
For example, the recent Committee Conclusions and Recommendations on North Korea was about half the length of that on the United States.
That will play well with the fatheads and superpatriots who form this administration’s base, but it falls afoul of two basic points. First, as even the Associated Press story noted, it’s UNHRC’s duty to investigate periodically the compliance of the 156 signatory countries with the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. UNHRC is not singling the U.S. out for criticism, nor is it “spending more time” reviewing the U.S. than it devotes to some of our more monstrous allies, say Kazakhstan. If there are fewer words in the report on a closed country like North Korea, that does not mean UNHRC has given little attention to it.
Secondly, although the UNHRC report on the U.S. is not an indictment on the scale of what you’d find in reports about brutal tyrannies, say in Kazakhstan, it ought to worry any American that there is significantly less difference in today’s report than used to be the case. Even a cursory comparison to the UNHRC report from 1995 reveals immediately how much longer and more severe the new report is.
One thing in particular is very telling about today’s U.N. report. Its list of “positive aspects” includes nothing undertaken by the current administration. Instead, it notes a series of rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court against various abuses--rulings (such as Hamdan) that the Bush administration opposed.
Bush & Co. on trial
What are the UNHRC report’s most salient new findings, aside from the obstructionistic attitude of the Bush administration? For starters, it denounces the administration’s refusal to uphold all the provisions of the 1966 treaty, to ensure the rights of all humans under its control (including those detained outside the U.S.), and to “give good faith understanding” to the Committee’s interpretation of the plain meaning of terms in the treaty.
HNHRC calls for the immediate closure of all secret prisons, which it says have existed for a long time now.
The Committee is concerned by credible and uncontested information that the State party has seen fit to engage in the practice of detaining people secretly and in secret places for months and years on end, without even keeping the International Committee of the Red Cross informed. In such cases, the rights of the families of the detained persons have also been violated.…
The State party should immediately abolish all secret detention and secret detention facilities. It should also grant prompt access by the International Committee of the Red Cross to any person detained in connection with an armed conflict. It should only detain persons in places in which they can enjoy the full protection of the law.
Some of the strongest language was reserved for the Bush administration’s torture policies.
The Committee is concerned that for a period of time the State party authorized the possible use of interrogation techniques such as prolonged stress positions and isolation, sensory deprivation, hooding, exposure to cold or heat, sleep and dietary adjustments, 20-hour interrogations, removal of clothing and of all comfort items, as well as religious items, forced grooming, and exploitation of detainees’ individual phobias. While welcoming the assurance that, according to the Detainee Treatment Act, these techniques are no longer authorized under the present Army Field Manual for current use by military personnel or on military premises, the Committee remains concerned that (a) the State party refuses to acknowledge that such techniques, several of which were allegedly applied, either individually or used in combination and/or applied over a protracted period of time, violate the prohibition in article 7; (b) no one has been punished for the approved use of the techniques; (c) these techniques may still be authorized or used by other agencies, including intelligence agencies and “private contractors”; and (d) the State party has provided no information demonstrating that oversight systems of such agencies are capable of ensuring respect for the prohibition contained in article 7.
The UNHRC report goes on to complain that investigations into allegations of torture and mistreatment of prisoners have been neither impartial nor effective. It urges that all federal agencies be bound to follow interrogation techniques that adhere to international law; that prisoners should have effective means to appeal any mistreatment; and that the government “sanction those who used or approved the use of the now withdrawn techniques”.
[The Committee] regrets that it has received insufficient information on prosecutions launched, sentences passed (which appear excessively light for offences of such gravity) and reparation granted to the victims.
UNHRC urges the Bush administration to ensure that those who committed abuse against prisoners be investigated, prosecuted, and punished accordingly; to implement procedures to ensure that these abuses won’t recur; and to stop using evidence at trial obtained by torture.
UNHRC urges that prisoners at Guantanamo be allowed to challenge their detention and treatment.
The State party should ensure, in accordance with article 9 (4) of the Covenant, that persons detained in Guantanamo are entitled to proceedings before a court to decide without delay on the lawfulness of their detention or order their release if the detention is not lawful. Due process, independence of the reviewing courts from the executive branch and the army, access of detainees to counsel of their choice and to all proceedings and evidence, should be guaranteed in this regard.
UNHRC also denounces the Bush administration policies on extraordinary rendition, and it singles out several of the absurd justifications given for these policies, including the “more likely than not” standard by which it becomes permissible, in the eyes of Bush & Co., to ship a prisoner off to a country where there’s at least a 50-50 chance that the prisoner won’t be tortured. UNHRC all but endorses some of the allegations of torture by victims of this policy, and it laments the failure of the U.S. system of justice to permit such victims to bring suit against the government (it mentions the rejection of Maher Arar’s lawsuit). It urges the Bush administration to put a stop to renditions to countries that practice torture, and to investigate all serious allegations by victims of rendition.
UNHRC also denounces the federal government over its false allegations of “terrorism” against all manner of non-terrorist criminals. In particular, it takes note of the number of non-citizens who were detained for long periods without trial after 9/11/01, merely upon suspicion, as ‘Material Witnesses’. It urges that people so detained be paid reparations.
This litany of human rights offenses committed by the Bush administration closes with a flourish. UNHRC decries provisions in the Patriot Act that permit searches and seizure without notification, and which therefore cannot reasonably be challenged in court.
The State party should review sections 213, 215 and 505 of the Patriot Act to ensure full compatibility with article 17 of the Covenant. The State party should ensure that interference in one’s privacy is conducted only where strictly necessary, under protection of the law, and that appropriate remedies are made available to the affected persons.
This report portrays a long train of human rights abuses--abuses invariably significant and glaringly illegal under both U.S. and international treaty obligations. How does the Bush administration try to deflect these hideously embarrassing accusations?
It complains that the Committee rejected many of the excuses and evasions made by the Bush administration; that some of the Committee’s recommendations address things that are already “under active consideration” by courts or the federal government; that the Committee hasn’t always explained clearly how its recommendations are connected to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and that the Covenant does not apply to American behavior outside the United States.
The first three arguments are simply petty and unworthy. The fourth, whether tenable or not, is essentially an argument that Americans reserve the privilege to abuse human rights when we go abroad. It, too, is petty and unworthy. That is the testament of Bush & Co.