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Encouraging as some developments in 2005 were, they could not obscure the many compromises in the defense of human rights that have arisen in the context of the fight against terrorism.  There is no doubting that terrorism today poses a serious threat.  All governments have a duty to take effective steps to counter this deadly danger.  Yet the seriousness of the threat does not justify the flouting of human rights standards to which the response of certain governments has given rise.  Many governments have experienced serious security threats, from invasion to civil war, that put the lives of their citizens at risk.  The current threat of terrorism is different only in that citizens of the major Western powers appear prominently among the victims.  After preaching for many years that all governments should respond to security threats within the constraints of human rights law, these Western governments should hardly be surprised that hypocrisy alarms ring loudly when they cite security concerns to defend their own human rights transgressions. 

Because of the enormous influence of Western governments, and because of their importance as major parts of the global defense of human rights, this official hypocrisy has substantially harmed the human rights cause.  It diminishes the persuasive power of these governments when they do rise on behalf of human rights, as it undermines the effective strength of the international standards that they transgress.  That these human rights compromises are unnecessary—that they undermine rather than advance the campaign against terrorism—makes the behavior of the major Western powers all the more tragic.  There is an urgent need for enlightened leadership—for governmental leaders who still embrace human rights to stand up, reject this misguided approach to fighting terrorism, and reaffirm that even in the face of a serious security threat respect for human rights is good for all. 

Washington’s role in the ongoing degradation of human rights leadership is especially dangerous.  Now that responsibility for the use of torture and inhumane treatment can no longer credibly be passed off to misadventures by low-level soldiers on the night shift, it is time for the Bush administration to acknowledge the wrongfulness of its interrogation policies and to embrace respect for human rights as a moral, legal, and pragmatic imperative.  Pressure will be needed, both from the citizens of the United States and from friends and allies around the world.  For the good of the human rights cause, and for the security of those at risk of terrorist strikes, reevaluation and reversal of Washington’s shameful policies are essential. 

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>January 2006