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Marjorie Cohn: Enforcing US Human Rights Laws

Enforcing US Human Rights Laws

By Marjorie Cohn
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Wednesday 01 June 2005

Challenging US Human Rights Violations Since 9/11
Ann Fagan Ginger, ed., Prometheus Books, 2005, 574 pp.

The Bush administration is using the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, as an excuse to launch a massive assault on the human rights of people throughout the world. From the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, to the torture and inhuman treatment of prisoners in US custody, and the insidious profiling and harassment of Arabs and Muslims in the US, Team Bush has engaged in unprecedented violations of US and international law, under the guise of fighting "the war on terror."

Bush has done nothing to hide his contempt for the United Nations and our treaty commitments, which are part of US law under the Constitution. When Security Council approval for his war on Iraq was not forthcoming, Bush threatened the UN with becoming "irrelevant." Nothing exemplifies Bush's disdain for the United Nations better than his nomination of John Bolton, avowed UN-hater, for US ambassador to the UN. And although the 60-year anniversary of the founding of the United Nations will take place later this month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former President George H.W. Bush will not attend, and George W. Bush has not announced that he plans to travel to San Francisco for this momentous occasion.

The administration's terrorizing of people at home and abroad has been chronicled by Prof. Ann Fagan Ginger, Executive Director of Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, in her new book, Challenging US Human Rights Violations Since 9/11. For the first time, a listing of Team Bush's breaches of our laws since Sept. 11 has been amassed in one place. Ginger presents reports of 180 alleged violations, in 30 categories, by the White House; the Pentagon; the Departments of State, Justice, and Labor; the FBI; the Attorney General; immigration officials; and state and local police against people in the United States, Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, and elsewhere. Each report includes the sources for the allegation, and each section lists the specific US and international laws allegedly violated.

In this unique book, Ginger has collected reports on the basic rights of all peoples under US jurisdiction: the right not to be killed or disappeared; the right not to be tortured or ordered to torture; the right peaceably to assemble and petition the government; the right to equal protection regardless of race or national origin; the right to equal protection for women; the right to free exercise of religion; the right of the media to report facts and not be killed; the right to privacy vs. surveillance and registration; the right of libraries not to report on readers; the right of universities to accept foreign scholars and students; and the right to travel.

Some examples of violations include the "disappearing" of 3,000 men in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban; the use of napalm in Iraq, cluster bombs in Afghanistan, and depleted uranium in both Iraq and Afghanistan; the killing and torture of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo, and abuse of prisoners in US prisons; the arrest of animal rights activists, hailed by the Bush administration as a blow against terrorism; the pepper spraying of environmental and antiwar activists in Portland, OR; the firing of journalists for criticizing Bush; and the failure of the US government to comply with its duty to report human rights violations to the US Civil Rights Commission, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, and the UN Human Rights Committee. Judge Richard Margolis said he personally saw police commit 20 felonies during anti-globalization demonstrations in Miami.

The US government has corresponding duties to we-the-people, also listed in Ginger's reports. They include the duty to count the votes accurately and report to the people honestly; the duty to obey the Constitution, the law of nations, and the laws of war; the duty to protect people's rights; the duty to properly fund the general welfare; and the duty to report violations to Congress and the UN.

Ginger cites the specific laws violated, and documents what people are doing to challenge those violations, both in the courts and in the political arena. She provides the basic text of the US Constitution, the UN Charter, and other ratified human rights and antinuclear weapons treaties. The specific statutes at issue, including the Patriot Act, are listed in each report.

The City Council of Berkeley, CA passed a resolution to submit Ginger's reports to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. On March 31, representatives of the National Lawyers Guild, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, Gold Star Families for Peace, and Center for Constitutional Rights, whose work is memorialized in the reports, were on hand for the presentation in New York.

Ann Fagan Ginger has compiled a shocking compendium of human rights violations by the Bush administration. But, unlike prior works, she presents remedies for these transgressions in a well-organized book accessible to activists, lawyers, students, teachers, union members, government officials and judges. This gripping work is an indispensable tool for citizens and lawyers defending civil liberties in the era of the Patriot Act and the War on Terrorism. Prof. Ginger is making several presentations per week, inviting listeners to share their experiences of violations, and fight backs, following some of the new paths for action in the book. She can be contacted at


Marjorie Cohn, is a contributing editor to t r u t h o u t, a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, executive vice president of the National Lawyers Guild, and the U.S. representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists.

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