War on Terrorism Makes World More Dangerous
From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release June 9, 2003
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Interview with Joshua Rubenstein, northeast regional director with Amnesty International USA, conducted by Scott Harris
Listen in RealAudio: http://www.btlonline.org/rubenstein061303.ram
As increasing numbers of U.S. soldiers are killed and wounded in ambush attacks across Iraq, and the search for Saddam Hussein's "weapons of mass destruction" continues to come up empty-handed, many Americans are beginning to question the Bush administration's justification for their war against Baghdad. After the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the White House declared what they said could very well be "an endless" war against terrorism which sent U.S. troops first to Afghanistan and then the Persian Gulf, while curtailing civil liberties here at home.
Contrary to international law, hundreds of prisoners captured in Afghanistan, some of them juveniles, have been held at the U.S. Navy's prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba without charge for up to 18 months. Meanwhile, Attorney General John Ashcroft, under the authority of the USA Patriot Act, held hundreds of immigrants in secret detention, without filing charges, while denying many of them access to attorneys or family members. Allegations that many of these immigrants were abused while in custody are supported in a recent investigation conducted by the Justice Department's inspector general.
In its annual report on global human rights released on May 28th, Amnesty International declared that Washington's war on terror has made the world more dangerous by curbing human rights, undermining international law and shielding governments from scrutiny.
Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Joshua Rubenstein, northeast regional director with Amnesty International USA, who discusses his group's concerns about the questionable tactics employed by the Bush administration to fight the terrorist threat.
Joshua Rubenstein: Well, let me make clear that it's one thing to defend human rights at a time of calm prosperity, it's another thing to stand up for these principles at a moment of crisis. We all agree that after Sept. 11, the United States had to take vigorous methods not only to prevent another attack -- we were all afraid that there would be another subsequent attack at that time -- but also to investigate what happened and try to make sure that all those people responsible were held accountable. We all wanted that to happen.
But in the course of this war against terrorism, which has now been going on for almost two years, Amnesty believes that there has been abuse of rights within the United States for those prisoners who are being held (at the U.S. Navy base) at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who were taken prisoner in Afghanistan and the U.S. is countenancing abuse of human rights, even torture, among its allies.
So all of those things taken together, we believe, are diminishing respect for human rights and are giving the impression that the United States believes that human rights are dispensable when it comes to fighting terrorism.
Between The Lines: There are many people in the United States who support the wars, they support the pulling back of some human rights, some civil liberties to protect this country. How does a country such as the United States in a time of crisis balance the security needs of its citizenry with safeguarding the heritage and rights enshrined in our constitution and the Bill of Rights?
Joshua Rubenstein: I think it's unfortunate that this tension between protecting our security and upholding human rights are seen as antagonistic. Let me say as a citizen, as someone who lives here, who is raising a family here, I want to feel secure here. And I want to feel that my government is doing what's necessary to protect me and my family, my friends and my community. However, it’s also my job as a human rights activist, as a representative of Amnesty International for my organization, to point out what the red lines are. That we can sustain security and at the same time make sure that people have lawyers, that people have the right to a trial before a judge, that evidence is presented, that people are not subjected to torture or other forms of mistreatment. I do not believe, and I don't think the government would ever make the public claim, that our security depends on our ability to use torture, or countenance torture by our allies. I don't think they would ever mak e such a public claim. I don't think it would be sustainable. We have to begin to understand that these principles of security, the necessity of security, and of upholding human rights are not antagonistic that we can do both.
Between The Lines: Tell us a little bit about the detainees at Guantanamo, the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo,.Cuba.
Joshua Rubenstein: Well of course this is a very unusual episode in American history. After the attack on Sept. 11, the U.S. decided it had to overthrow the government of the Taliban which had harbored obviously al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. In the course of that war we detained over 600 people. We brought them to Guantanamo, why? Because if they were to bring them to actual American territory, in the 48 contiguous states or Alaska or Hawaii, they would be subject to American law and we would have to give them lawyers, we would have to go through many, many procedures. But by keeping them in Guantanamo we could go through the fiction of saying they were not on American territory. In fact, initially the U.S. said it would not even abide by the Geneva conventions and recognize them as prisoners of war. Instead we've decided that they are "enemy combatants." And so none of them has been charged with a crime. It's not clear they've been able to correspond with their families. The re have been reported increasing incidence of suicide attempts by them, which indicates some degree of unpleasantness and unhappiness on their part. Finally, just this spring, we’ve learned that there were a number of teenagers among these detainees and they were being held indefinitely. So the U.S. government has apparently begun to release these teenagers and several elderly prisoners. Now it turns out that probably a number of these detainees were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. That there was no concrete reason to detain them, to arrest them, to bring them to Guantanamo, that they were neither Taliban soldiers nor al Qaeda soldiers. So these are many issues connected here.
When the U.S. backs away from these human rights treaties, it's backing away from a tradition that it helped to create. The modern human rights movement emerged after World War II, with the creation of the United Nations, with the tribunal at Nuremberg, with the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- that was under the leadership of Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt -- with the adoption of the covenants on civil and political rights, and social and economic rights. It would be a tragedy if the U.S. were to turn its back on these decades of developments. The U.S. prides itself on being a leader of what used to be called the "free world," being a champion of human rights. The degree to which we back off from these rights it makes it easier for regimes that are outright hostile to these principles. It just makes it easier for these governments to abuse their own people when there's no example from the United States saying: international law matters, human rights matters.
So it can have grave consequences for the rest of the world, and frankly, it can have consequences inside the United States because our own civil liberties are under assault from things like the Patriot Act, from the fact that Americans can be arrested and held without trial now. That two Americans are being held without access to lawyers because of accusations that they're part of the conspiracy on Sept. 11. These are very worrisome things.
Contact Amnesty International USA by calling (617) 623-0202 or visit their Web site at http://www.amnestyusa.org
Visit our website at http://www.btlonline.org for related links including:
- Amnesty International: "War On Terror" Has Made World Worse," by Gideon Long, Reuters May 28, 2003
- "US Plans Death Camp at Guantanamo," The Courier-Mail, May 26, 2003
- "Patriot Act Use Expands: Laws Invoked Against Crimes Unrelated to Terror, Report Says," by Dan Eggen, The Washington Post, May 21, 2003
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