Wednesday, May 11, 2005

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America as Beacon and Abu Ghraib responses

My third question was as follows:

Do you believe that in order to effectively promote goals like democratization and human rights around the world, the U.S. must itself be seen as an exemplar of these values? Do you believe that our status as a standard-bearer of justice and liberty is so well-entrenched that revelations like the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo wont negatively affect it?

The commentariat seems to be split on this one. Many people think the Abu Ghraib abuses were serious, and probably not taken seriously enough. Quite a number of others seemed to regard the abuses as the work of a few rogue underlings acting without instructions.

This was probably the result of my poor phrasing, but few addressed the broader question of how Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and related developments impact the U.S.'s ability to promote democracy and other values like human rights and the rule of law that we would like to seed around the world.

In my view, there are many regimes around the world that would like to undercut the appeal of American ideals in the minds of their own people. They are fearful that if their populations begin to demand the political and economic freedoms we enjoy, that they will lose control.

On the other hand, as by fellow Democracy Arsenal co-blogger Heather Hurlburt and others pointed out as part of the thought-provoking debates at the washingtonmonthly on this subject, the most powerful force for democratization even in intractable regions like the Middle East is the will of the people themselves who crave freedom. Historically, such people have often been inspired by the example the U.S. has set.

One of the most serious consequences of the U.S.'s lapses in upholding the human rights and related standards that we purport to represent is that we play into the hands of those who claim that our ideals are empty or hypocritical. We allow them to call into quesetion the promise that our principles signify in the minds of their populations. We sow doubts in the minds of people that would otherwise tend to cleave in the values the U.S. stands for, rather than listening to the promises of corrupt leaders.

We can write off Abu Ghraib as the work of a few misfits. But in the eyes of much of the rest of the world the abuses were linked to a pattern of disregard for international norms governing the treatment of detainees.

Particularly given our under-investment in public diplomacy, we have limited ability to shape how our actions are seen from the outside. When we are seen as not taking the problem seriously, that adds further fuel to the fire of those trying to fan skepticism about American motives.

Though we may not always see the link, I suspect we will be living with the consequences of Abu Ghraib for a long time to come in the form of charges of hypocrisy, doubts about American sincerity, and a sense around the world that America does not hold itself to the standards it would impose on others.

posted by on 05.11.05 at 10:06 PM




Comments:

But in the eyes of much of the rest of the world the abuses were linked to a pattern of disregard for international norms ..."

Load the URL below for the Real Audio version of appropriate background music while rereading the above post. The lyrics are included so you can sing along.

http://it.stlawu.edu/~x0tsing/takeaway.htm

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 05.11.05 at 10:06 PM [permalink]



But you're ignoring what seems to me the most substansive criticism of the whole point: that the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo abuses, while real, are such small beer that they are probably net positives.

Abu Ghraib before the war: mass executions, tongues cut out and hands lopped off, daughters raped and murdered in front of their fathers. Abu Ghraib after the war: embarrassing pictures and free lap dances.

Guantanamo, Cuba: keeping people awake, feeding them Army cooking and more free lap dances. Cuba outside the Guantanamo preserve: summary executions without trial, prisoners dying of malnutrition and disease.

US: extremely public trials with prison sentences when abuses occur. The various fascist states: nada.

posted by: Charlie (Colorado) on 05.11.05 at 10:06 PM [permalink]



Suzanne,

Have you been to the Middle East? We have no idea what is the impact of Abu Graib if any. The reason is there was no poll/survey conducted on the topic.

But is my take, who was in Iraq last year, is most Iraqi do not care. I spent a year in Iraq, I spent times going to tribal meeting, city council meeting as well as meeting ordinary people in the market. They were concerned about the rising violence, the lack of service, the economic prospect, and employment, not Abu Ghraib. People in Iraq do not care. They have seen far worse under Saddam. The words I heard most often in the chai houses (tea houses) I frequented was "they deserve far worse."

We should still do the right thing by punish the wrongdoers, and taking step to prevent it from happening again. Simply because it is the right thing to do. But the impact of Abu Ghraib is over-estimated and overblowed.

posted by: Minh-Duc on 05.11.05 at 10:06 PM [permalink]



Suzanne,

You should consider the possibility that here you are in the position of the lady in New York City who said in 1972 that she couldn't figure out why Nixon had been re-elected when everyone she knew had voted against him.

My previous comments about you needing to get out more were advice to seek personal contact and conversations with people outside your normal circle of friends, colleagues & family. You seem to live and work in an unreal monoculture.

What you see as a big issue in Abu Ghraib is so only to, in this country, those seeking partisan advantage plus the professionally offended, and abroad only to people who have it in for us anyway. Guantamano isn't even on the map.

And you have no idea how narrowly we dodged a bullet over AG. The place was a security nightmare - it was wide open to a Trojan Horse attack. Its leadership was a total failure - the brigadier in charge should have been convicted of neglect of duty.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 05.11.05 at 10:06 PM [permalink]



I'm afraid that if the standard is perfection, then democracy will never spread due to a US example. The strength of our system is not and never has been that it is either perfect nor perfectionist. The strength of our system has been and is to identify mistakes and try to fix them, through relatively open political processes. No kings, no dictators, no Politburo, no perfectionist system.

Madison said it best. Neither men nor systems are inherently perfect. Therefore, our best defense against tyranny of any sort is a system that uses the weaknesses of people in a way that tends to avoid tyranny. This we do, even at AG. Show me some examples outside of the Anglo law tradition that routinely critique and attempt to fix themselves like ours. I wouldn't even include Canada and New Zealand now, because the appear to have become perfectionist, viz the Canadian govts refusal to call a new election in the face of a vote for them to resign. This is tyranny.

AG was not tyranny. It was the opposite and the people of Iraq know it.

posted by: JorgXMcKie on 05.11.05 at 10:06 PM [permalink]



Concur with the above, especially what Charlie said.

However...

We can write off Abu Ghraib as the work of a few misfits. But in the eyes of much of the rest of the world the abuses were linked to a pattern of disregard for international norms governing the treatment of detainees.

You really should amend that to

"But in the eyes of European leftists the abuses were linked to a pattern of disregard for what they wish were international norms governing the treatment of historically oppressed non-Europeans fighting wars of national liberation against a neo-colonial imperialist hegemon."

posted by: rosignol on 05.11.05 at 10:06 PM [permalink]



"But is my take, who was in Iraq last year, is most Iraqi do not care. "

I saw 4-5 news stories at the time interviewing local Iraqi expats about AG, they all said the same. These folks are also in touch with relatives back in the old country and none reported them being outraged about it.

Also see the movie Voices of Iraq (www.voicesofiraq.com), there's a short segment where one of the interviewers asks a group of Iraqi men who had been imprisoned in AG the same thing, same response: "What are the Americans so upset about? These prisoners were terrorists and criminals. We know what went on in AG under Saddam, this is nothing." (Everyone in Iraq had at least one relative killed tortured or imprisoned by Saddam.)

Also on the BBC Arabic language website, in one of the forums translated by one of the Iraqi bloggers: other Arabs are waxing wroth about AG with practiced political catch-phrases (you can tell when someone is declaiming a particular party line), and Iraqis are saying unanimously: "Where were you, my Arab brothers, when Saddam was abusing us? None of you lifted a finger. Now you are outraged about a few bad Americans humiliating a few prisoners. Cut me a break." (I'm paraphrasing, but that was the collected gist.)

Also, some mentioned being impressed that the Americans were willing to bring the perpetrators to justice and be transparent about it. In the Arab world you don't admit mistakes. So in fact the lesson of AG is that America DID hold itself to standards that other cultures dont, not the other way around.

AG is a big nothing. The usual anti-American guilt-mongers (both foreign and domestic) are trying to push our buttons.

posted by: Yehudit on 05.11.05 at 10:06 PM [permalink]



Minh-Duc - "We should still do the right thing by punish the wrongdoers, and taking step to prevent it from happening again. Simply because it is the right thing to do."

Mehudit - ". . . some [Iraqis] mentioned being impressed that the Americans were willing to bring the perpetrators to justice and be transparent about it. In the Arab world you don't admit mistakes. So in fact the lesson of AG is that America DID hold itself to standards that other cultures dont."

Those two comments capture the gist of my feelings on the topic. Right thing to do, transparent, high standards. Who would argue ?

But Mehudit goes on to say, "AG is a big nothing. The usual anti-American guilt-mongers (both foreign and domestic) are trying to push our buttons."

That's where it all bogs down. If, in fact, the US reaped puzzled to positive reaction from Iraqis regarding AG, that seems to be a net plus (given that the abuse rises nowhere to the level of what went on there under Saddam). Plenty of folks supported a forthright investigation that, to it's great credit, was initiated by the military itself. That's how it's supposed to work.

An example of how our society works. That's not nothing. Not anti-American, and not guilt mongering.

Or is the prescription to take a page out of the Arab world's playbook - never admit a mistake ?

Cheers,

posted by: Rofe on 05.11.05 at 10:06 PM [permalink]



There is no prescription.

We have a system for dealing with this kind of thing, and the system works fairly well (albeit slowly). There is little inclination to change it because quite a lot of people suspect that the primary motivation of the people doing the criticizing is not to improve the system for dealing with this kind of thing, but to get some high-ranking scalps to mount on the wall.

posted by: rosignol on 05.11.05 at 10:06 PM [permalink]



Hitchens on Abu Ghraib.

When I said AG is a big nothing I meant on an international scale, as compared to:
"we will be living with the consequences of Abu Ghraib for a long time to come in the form of charges of hypocrisy, doubts about American sincerity, and a sense around the world that America does not hold itself to the standards it would impose on others."
and much other breast-beating I have heard from Americans about it. Most of which completely ignores its role in Saddam's Reign of Terror and how Iraqis feel about that.

This is exactly the kind of American narcissicm the left is always accusing us of: emoting about what we think Abu Ghraib ought to mean to US, while ignoring what it actually meant for years to the people whose opinion ought to matter more. It's like the countless antiwar rallies which never had any Iraqi speak at the podium, refusing Iraqi requests to at least condemn Saddam's actions, and often sneered at Iraqi counter-protests. The rallies were all about US, not the Iraqis. The antiwar left could give two shits about Iraqis.

Some of the many reasons the left has no credibility with me.

posted by: Yehudit on 05.11.05 at 10:06 PM [permalink]



I am reminded of 1970, when the American left had a fit because the US violated the nuetrality of Cambodia.

The North Vietnamese had ten divisions housed and headquartered in Cambodia, but the US was evil for violating Cambodian nuetrality. Duh.

To the left, the US is always at fault. Go get'em Noam Chomsky!

On 9/11/2001 terrorists attempted to kill 70,000 American citizens and residents, and did kill 3000.

Let the left stew about that for awhile.

Let's leave Iraq and return to something more useful, hunting down and killing terrorists.

posted by: Tom E on 05.11.05 at 10:06 PM [permalink]



Suzanne, I'd like to see the Abu Ghraib personnel punished more heavily, both at the top and the bottom of the chain of command, but I'm not convinced of the long-term harm. The U.S. has always had flaws or outright crimes in its record (segregation, Japanese internment, homelessness, etc.), and our adversaries have frequently sought to raise charges of hypocrisy from them. America's mission in the world has not been compromised thereby.

Let me turn the question around on you. The UN's peacekeeping missions in the last 15 years have consistently been marked by sex crimes (including child rape) and patronage of prostitution by UN troops. The Congo is the most recent and perhaps the most egregious example, but similar charges arose from the UN's missions in Bosnia, Kosovo, Cambodia, Mozambique, East Timor, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia.

The UN's response in Bosnia was largely to stonewall against investigation. The abuses in West Africa provoked an investigation that was criticized as inadequate by Human Rights Watch, which noted that "throughout the year, High Commissioner Lubbers made a series of defensive statements that failed to demonstrate political leadership and commitment on the issue." The 2002 investigation resulted in a task-force report that called for zero tolerance of sexual abuses by peacekeepers. This report obviously proved wholly ineffective in preventing the crimes in the Congo. As you've pointed out, the UN's response to the Congo abuses has been another task-force report.

In summary, the only consequence of this repeated pattern of sexual abuses has been that a few low-level soldiers and a few commanders have been recalled. No one was prosecuted in connection with Bosnia or West Africa. As near as I can tell, no UN staffer (and certainly no official of high rank) has ever been disciplined or dismissed in connection with any of these scandals. Essentially, they've been written off "as the work of a few misfits."

I understand the structural and political limitations on the UN's authority and ability to police itself, but those are what they are. As things stand, any nation where UN peacekeepers are sent has to reasonably expect that some significant number of its children will be raped or pimped by the troops in blue helmets.

So what do you think? Do these scandals "play into the hands of those who claim that [the UN's] ideals are empty or hypocritical"? Do they "call into question the promise that [the UN's] principles signify"? And when the UN is "seen as not taking the problem seriously," does that adds "further fuel to the fire of those trying to fan skepticism about [the UN's] motives"? Will the UN be living with the consequences of these sex-abuse scandals for a long time to come?

posted by: Tom T. on 05.11.05 at 10:06 PM [permalink]



At the risk of hijacking the thread, a couple of questions that constantly bedevil me:

Who's 'the left' ?

How does anti-war left => left => the rest of us out here (i.e. who didn't vote for George Bush) ?

Does thinking that the US shouldn't use torture or condone prisoner abuse put me into 'the left' ?

Just askin'.

Cheers,

posted by: Rofe on 05.11.05 at 10:06 PM [permalink]



Although it's been said many times already, I will add my voice to the chorus: Suzanne, "the rest of the world" is not a synonym for "western Europe."

The last time I checked, we were not trying to bring democratization and human rights to western Europe, on the assumption that they already existed there.

posted by: DRB on 05.11.05 at 10:06 PM [permalink]



So, Rofe, you believe "the abuses were linked to a pattern of disregard for what they wish were international norms governing the treatment of historically oppressed non-Europeans fighting wars of national liberation against a neo-colonial imperialist hegemon?"
Or perhaps you "[emote] about what we think Abu Ghraib ought to mean to US, while ignoring what it actually meant for years to the people whose opinion ought to matter more?"
Or maybe you were responsible for "countless antiwar rallies which never had any Iraqi speak at the podium, refusing Iraqi requests to at least condemn Saddam's actions, and often sneered at Iraqi counter-protests?"
Or you simply feel "the US is always at fault?"

Those are the references to the left in this thread (that heaven forfend you should hijack), and thus relevant to this discussion. You might want to set about disavowing them, so as to remove doubts as to your non-left purity. Otherwise, if the shoe fits ...

posted by: Achillea on 05.11.05 at 10:06 PM [permalink]



Two senators, Hagel and Boxer expressed the feeling that we are at critical juncture in our nation's history. Abu Gharib is a disturbing sign post on that journey. I think that Philip Carter in his milblog www.intel-dump.com has said the best things one can say on this topic. And his expertise in this area seems unequaled in the blogosphere. So, perhaps it is best to offer an American prayer to see us through the coming storm.

"The remembrance, then, of what is past, if it operates rightly, must inspire her with the most laudable of all ambition, that of adding to the fair fame she began with. The world has seen her great in adversity; struggling, without a thought of yielding, beneath accumulated difficulties, bravely, nay proudly, encountering distress, and rising in resolution as the storm increased. All this is justly due to her, for her fortitude has merited the character. Let, then, the world see that she can bear prosperity: and that her honest virtue in time of peace, is equal to the bravest virtue in time of war."

-- Thomas Paine

posted by: manoppello on 05.11.05 at 10:06 PM [permalink]



I'm an Australian and the whole pattern of abuse and torture that includes incidents in Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay as well as an opinion of senior council the White House deeply scares the rest of the World. The laughable convictions of junior officers was pathetic. It was a CEO mentality - convict those on the bottom.

What it makes happen is that when an American official says Democracy we hear Hypocrisy.


posted by: Peter S. on 05.11.05 at 10:06 PM [permalink]



Right, Peter --- and how are the Australian refugee camps doing nowadays?

Motes and beams, kettles and pots, eh?

posted by: Charlie (Colorado) on 05.11.05 at 10:06 PM [permalink]



Charlie - we are open to that charge. However, there are some differences.

The camps are not properly termed refugee camps, they are camps for people suspected of being illegal immigrants. Australia is willing to accept refugees who go to our embassies and ask for asylum. We do, however, enforce our borders and will intern those people who the Australian government has determined may have violated our immigration laws. They are more comparable to the vast number of jails in the United States, that is to say while they are unpleasant they are not in breach of international law.

Also, there have not been documented, repeated instances of torture in the Australian camps as far as I know.

posted by: Peter S. on 05.11.05 at 10:06 PM [permalink]



Ah, no, Peter, they're not. To be 'interned' in a US jail, the authorities have to file charges and set a date for the trial within a reasonable time of the charges being filed. The most US police can 'detain' you without charges is 48 or 72 hours, after that, you walk.

Now, would you mind elaborating on exactly what international law the detention facility at Guantanamo is in breach of?

posted by: rosignol on 05.11.05 at 10:06 PM [permalink]



You're right rosignol, these claims should be backed up.

It is worth googling international law and Guantanamo Bay to get a good list of explanations as to why Guantanamo Bay breaches International Law. Two are listed below.

International Law: Illegal imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay outlines the reasons well. Essentially many of the detainees should be POWs. The reclassification of POWs as whatever is not justifiable. If it is, then any state could classify people as 'enemies of the state' or whatever and kidnap citizens of other states from any place on the globe. People who are suspected of committing crimes are classifiable as criminals, and should thus be subject to local laws pertaining to criminals.

There is another description of Guantanamo Bay at Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights that does not go into as much detail.

Also, rosignol, your claim that Americans can only be charged and then held for 72 hours is no longer correct as Americans detained as being suspected Terrorists have had these protections removed. Human Rights Watch outlines this.

It is tragic that America is throwing away a strong record as a leading light for democracy and human rights for the pursuit of what appears to be revenge on the muslim world.

posted by: pete on 05.11.05 at 10:06 PM [permalink]






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