Friday, 28 July 2006

Another human rights condemnation? yawn

During my sometimes tedious days at work I frequently check Google news to get up-to-the-minute breaking news on everything that’s going on. The great thing about the site is it goes through publications all over the world and shows you what has been statistically written about the most in various categories. In that way, there’s no editorial filter and you get to see the raw news, with no one deciding what is important and what is not except the pure law of numbers, which thankfully also tends to show what is most important. Fortunately the pool only includes reputable news organizations (aside from the entertainment section) so you’re not getting literally what is most popular but rather what is most published.

One of the most interesting aspects of the site is that you can monitor how different areas of the world are covering the same news event. And one of the more frequent occurrences is that a story will get high-level play everywhere in the world except in the US.

Such was the case today when the UN human rights committee issued its most scathing critique yet on the human rights violations of the United States After a two-day hearing in Geneva last week into US compliance with the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the committee concluded that the United States is in serious violation of the treaty through its extensive secret interrogation and detention program for terror suspects. The document is probably the most critical and serious human rights report ever concluded by the UN about a Western nation.

This morning, the story was top on Google news, having received the most publishing hits worldwide for the day. But as I looked through the sources, a trend emerged pretty quickly. All of the news sources were outside of the US.

The BBC, Reuters, AFP, Al Jazeera, News24, the list goes on and on. All had the story on their main page. On, and, the story was completely absent. Even the New York Times and The Washington Post had nothing about the report on their main pages.

Have we gotten to the point where yet another UN condemnation of the United States just isn’t news anymore? Does this seem so old hat by now that no one cares? American news consumers may not bat an eyelash when they see reports like this anymore, but the rest of the world takes notice. And it’s just one more nail in our coffin.

The Washington Post did have an article today about how the US congress is now drafting legislation to address fears that a 1996 law passed by a Republican-controlled congress could make officials and troops involved in detainee matters eligible to be prosecuted for war crimes. Obviously we have no use for laws passed ten years ago, when the country hadn’t yet lost its mind.

The War Crimes Act of 1996 criminalizes violations of the Geneva Conventions governing conduct in war and threatens the death penalty if US-held detainees die in custody from abusive treatment. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that the Geneva Conventions do indeed apply to the “enemy combatants” being held in Guantanamo Bay and in secret prisons throughout the world, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez is rushing around Washington telling Republican lawmakers that they need to quickly pass legislation negating the 1996 law.

The blatant irony and hypocrisy of this situation is tangible. The War Crimes Act was drafted by Republican Congressman Walter Jones Jr. of North Carolina, one of the most conservative members of the house, who became enraged after talking to a retired navy pilot who complained about Washington’s inability to prosecute the people who had tortured him during his time as a POW in Viet Nam. At the time, everyone thought it was a great idea. The Defense Department gave the bill their full support, and the senate passed it unanimously.

The bill applies to any abuse involving US troops or military personnel, whether they are being tortured or they are doing the torturing. At the time, the US congress didn’t anticipate that in just five years we would be the torturers. The intention was for the law to be applied to potential future abusers of captured US troops in Bosnia, El Salvadore and Somalia. The Pentagon supported making it applicable to US troops as well because it set a high standard for others to follow.

My how things change.

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