More Endangered Values

My biggest problem reading Carter’s Our Endangered Values is that too often I merely feel like a member of the congregation, my participation limited to shouting “Amen? after a passage I’ve read. Generally I want more than that from a book; I want something that challenges my ideas and helps me see the world differently. Still, just the fact that my values are so similar to a born-again Christian is a constant amazement.

I could easily spend days citing passages from the book, but I’m skipping over several chapters to focus on chapter entitled “Attacking Terrorism, Not Human Rights?? I’m sure earlier comments hear on my joining the ACLU and on the Patriot Act have made views quite clear, but hopefully Carter’s comments will encourage you to get out and vote your values Tuesday.

Carter notes that during his administration he focused on trying to protect civil rights abroad, among allies who seemed felt little compulsion to protect those rights in their own countries:

This triumph of civil rights at home did not preclude America's acceptance and support of some of the most brutal foreign regimes in our hemisphere and other regions, which blatantly violated the human rights of their own citizens. As a newly elected president, I announced that the protection of these rights would be the foundation of our country's foreign policy, and I persistently took action to implement this commitment. It has been gratifying to observe a wave of democratization sweep across our hemisphere and in other regions, as the fundamental rights of freedom were respected.

During the past four years there have been dramatic changes in our nation's policies toward protecting these rights. Many of our citizens have accepted these unprecedented policies because of the fear of terrorist attacks, but the damage to America's reputation has been extensive.

I’ve always felt that supporting dictators abroad because merely because they opposed Communism or because they provided us with oils was morally reprehensible, unchristian, and short-sighted.

Unfortunately, the current administration seems to be returning to such policies:

Equally disturbing were reports that the United States government is in some cases contributing directly to an erosion of human rights protection by encouraging governments to adopt regressive counterterrorism policies that lead to the undermining of democratic principles and the rule of law, often going far beyond the U.S. Patriot Act.

I can’t be the only person shocked to learn that the United States sent a Canadian suspected of being an Al Queda member to SYRIA to be interrogated. Aren’t these the same Syrians we accused of harboring Sunnis from Iraq?

Carter points out that the Bush administration, supported by many conservative Republicans, is violating international principles that have been in effect since the close of World War II:

The prevalence of such abuse of captured servicemen and women during World War II induced the community of nations to come together to define quite precisely the basic guarantees of proper treatment for prisoners. These restraints are the result of an international conference held in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1949, and redefined and expanded what are known as the "Geneva Conventions." The authenticity and universal applicability of these guarantees were never questioned by a democratic power until recently, and by America! Instead of honoring the historic restraints, our political leaders decided to violate them, using the excuse that we are at war against terrorism. It is obvious that the Geneva Conventions were designed specifically protect prisoners of war, not prisoners of peace.

The international outrage evoked by such treatment is much more dangerous in the long run than any immediate benefit that may be gained. If such tactics were effective, the Shaw of Iran would still be in power, not to mention several other dictators once supported by America.

It’s truly terrifying when America’s attorney general can argue that international law does not apply to our treatment of possible terrorists:

Again quoting America's new attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, the policy "places a high premium on. . . the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors in order to avoid further atrocities against American civilians." He justifies an extension of the program permitting CIA agents to deal with suspects in foreign prison sites by claiming that the ban of the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment does not apply to American interrogations of foreigners overseas. According to him, the prisoners can be held indefinitely without any legal process and without access by the International Red Cross, even though the United States has ratified international agreements that prohibit such treatment. The New York Times reports that a still secret directive authorizing this policy was issued by President Bush in 2001. He also announced that members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban were not entitled to prisoner of war status.

I was originally hopeful when McCain and a handful of Senators stood up to the Bush Administration on this issue, but unfortunately they seemed to lose enthusiasm when they saw their popularity fall among the traditional Republican base. It’s obvious we need to elect both republicans and democrats who oppose these policies, but it seems clear that we will see little change unless the Democratic Party controls either the house or the senate.

What do you think?