For citizens living in the Ayn Rand Republic of Glenn Beckistan, what the U.S. State Department is asking for is only further evidence of the liberal plot to destroy America. Uncle Sam is soliciting public comments as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), "which involves a review of the human rights records of all 192 UN Member States once every four years."
From the State Department website: "In the pursuit of a transparent and effective UPR process, the Department of State is encouraging the American public, including non-governmental organizations and civil society more broadly, to provide input regarding human rights in the United States."
In the mind of Beckistanians, human rights is code for "world socialism," even though we are signatories of the UN Charter and the U.S. Constitution says "all Treaties made...under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land." For the rest of us, UPR is understood (at least in theory) to be a tool to "assess the extent to which States respect their human rights obligations set out in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."
Candidate Obama talked a good game about "change" and how he was going to restore America's credibility in the world by renouncing the contempt for international law and the torture of suspected terrorists that was part and parcel of the Bush doctrine. Remember his inaugural address when he said he rejected as false "the choice between our safety and our ideals?"
So the State Department invitation gives us a chance to help the President translate his rhetoric into reality. Here's my top 5 human rights concerns Obama needs to address (unless he really does intend to just be an eloquent spokesman for Bush-lite).
5) Re-think the "war on drugs." That the United States has 5% of the world's population but 25% of its prisoners is largely due to a militarized supply-side focus on the drug trade, which has helped finance right-wing dictators in Latin America for decades. For starters, the Obama administration should order a review of the Bush-era policy of certifying the Colombian military's compliance with human rights benchmarks attached to U.S. military aid. The reality, human rights organizations report, is that Colombia has "an ongoing atmosphere of impunity for the soldiers and officers responsible for widespread extrajudicial executions."
4) Accelerate Afghanistan exit strategy. In the meantime, while the Obama administration has shown itself willing to publicly criticize President Hamid Karzai's government, it has not distanced itself from Karzai's younger brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, a heavy-hitter in Kandahar reportedly on the CIA payroll despite his well-known connections to drug traffickers; to say nothing of the less well-known relationship between U.S. Special Forces and the notoriously abusive militias in Herat and Uruzgan.
3) Push for a just peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Gen. Patraeus has finally acknowledged what has been obvious to any close observer for a while now: our look-the-other-way approach with Israel is undermining U.S. interests in the Middle East. Kudos to the Obama administration for reversing the Bush policy of not participating on the UN Human Rights Council, which has been dominated by authoritarian governments since it was created in June 2007, but what's up with the hypocrisy of poo-poohing the Council report, written by the esteemed South African jurist Richard Goldstone, detailing the war crimes of Israel and Hamas during the invasion of the Gaza Strip?
"The (anti-Goldstone) move was particularly unfortunate because the report broke new ground for the council by criticizing an Israeli adversary, Hamas," notes Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth.
2) Prosecute suspected terrorists in federal courts and end the Bush-era policy of indefinite detention of suspected "terrorists" without due process. On this front, the Federation of American Scientists asked the State Department "to turn its attention to those cases where a resolution of alleged human rights violations has been barred by the government's use of the state secrets privilege."
"There are innocent individuals who have been swept up in U.S. Government counterterrorism operations, wrongly detained, ‘rendered' surreptitiously to foreign countries, subjected to extreme physical and mental stress, or otherwise wronged. In some cases, like those of persons such as Maher Arar and Khaled el-Masri, efforts to seek legal remedies have been blocked by the Government's invocation of the state secrets privilege..."
"If the judicial process in such cases is foreclosed by the state secrets privilege, then an alternate procedure should be created to rectify the wrongs that may have been committed."
1) Investigate and prosecute those who ordered or committed torture. This one speaks for itself, though it was Obama who articulated why holding torturers accountable should be at the top of the list. America, he said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, should not "insist that others follow the rules of the road if we refuse to follow them ourselves."
The State Department website says "those interested in providing their views, comments, proposals and recommendations....can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org." The comment period ends June 15. That's plenty of time for you to fire off an email and tell the State Department what you think about Bush-lite.