• Rights hypocrisy
    March 14,2006

    A mysterious aspect of the American public's behavior these past few years has been its collective reluctance to strenuously object as this nation's cherished constitutional protections have been trampled underfoot in the apparent belief that such extraordinary behavior is justified by the newly minted imperatives of national security.

    Why so much misdirected outrage at a simple business deal to allow an Arab ally to run six of our ports but so little anger at the Bush administration's cavalier attitude toward human rights and civil liberties when it is precisely America's proud embrace of these very same values that we proclaim sets our country apart from so many others?

    U. S. Sen. Russell Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, on Sunday called for President Bush to be formally censured for disregarding laws against domestic wiretapping, and that's encouraging, but there's so much more that calls for thoughtful – and outspoken – criticism of this administration.

    "What the president did by consciously and intentionally violating the Constitution and laws of this country with this illegal wiretapping has to be answered," Feingold said in a television interview. "Proper accountability is a censuring of the president, saying, 'Mr. President, acknowledge that you broke the law, return to the law, return to our system of government.'"

    Feingold, who has presidential ambitions of his own, probably will find scant support for his censure notion, although the president's present unpopularity may give his idea some traction. However, the illegal wiretapping is by no means the only issue that should be discussed. Other abuses by this administration beg for denunciation by all the people and not just by opposition politicians.

    Future historians will puzzle over the indifference many of us showed as we learned of the myriad abuses of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. While other nations have condemned our treatment of "enemy combatants" and even innocent suspects caught in the cynical web of national security, our own people have remained relatively silent.

    Is it any wonder that so many foreigners who had been so supportive and sympathetic after 9/11 (as one French newspaper famously declared, "We're All Americans Now") no longer exhibit a positive attitude toward this country? A great deal of good will has been forfeited.

    Now even China – hardly a bastion of enlightenment – is criticizing our nation's record on human rights. China's State Council, taking note of the annual State Department report on human rights conditions around the world that was released last week, suggested the United States ought to repair its own reputation before condemning others.

    "As in previous years, the State Department pointed the finger at human rights situations in more than 190 countries and regions, including China, but kept silent on the serious violations of human rights in the United States," the Beijing government commented.

    The annual State Department survey "fully exposes its hypocrisy and double standard on human rights issues," the Chinese declared. In the past we might have scoffed at the criticism, but in truth, they have a point. If the United States is going to set itself up as a judge for the rest of the world, it should be obliged to live up to its own ideals.

    And with the likes of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld now warning about "the long war" on terrorism, there apparently are no plans – or even any interest in developing plans – to halt the abusive practices. America's leaders and the American people surely can do better.

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