Saturday, October 22, 2005

Brave New World


SBS has gained its five seconds of global fame by breaking footage of the US military's latest scandal - the burning of bodies of alleged Taliban fighters, ostensibly for reasons of hygiene but probably as an attempt to lure the deceased's compatriots down from the mountains, given the pointing of the corpses westwards (towards Mecca) and the perpetrators' liberal use of the word 'dog'. Add to that the fact that cremation is forbidden for Muslims, and the Pentagon PR team, who must be ruing the day their bosses thought of 'embedding' journalists with combat units, is once again in damage control mode.

Ironically it's always the mildest incidents of US misconduct that get the media blowtorch, allowing conservatives to trivialise the issue ("terrorists murder hundreds in Iraq each day while we quibble about whether a Koran was flushed down the toilet at Guantanamo", etc). We never hear about the secret empire of detention and torture centres run by the Pentagon and the CIA, one that spans the globe and has 'processed' 50,000 odd people since September 11. Some have been held continuously since being taken into custody; many have been tortured, by US personnel or those of host states; none have been charged or tried, or had their families informed of their fate. Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib are just the tip of the iceberg - or the thin edge of the wedge, if you're the pessimistic type. Consider these extracts from one of the most lucid analyses of the 'War on Terror' I've come across -

"It seems too easy for the President to divest anyone in the world of rights and liberty simply by announcing that the US is at war with them and then declaring them unlawful combatants if they resist ... [this] amounts to a kind of heads-I-win-tails-you-lose international morality in which whatever it takes to reduce American risk, no matter what the cost to others, turns out to be justified."

"[The US approach since 9/11] replaces the ideal of law as a protector of rights with the more problematic goal of protecting some innocent people by sacrificing others ... [this] no longer resembles law as Americans generally understand it".

"The War on Terorrism has become a model of politics, a worldview with its own distinctive premises and consequences ... it includes a new model of state action, which depresses human rights from their peacetime standard to the war-time standard, and indeed even further. So long as it continues, the War on Terrorism means the end of human rights..."

The foregoing was written in 2003, before the invasion of Iraq and before the Bush administration's systematic effort to circumvent the Geneva Conventions while covering its backside legally was fully uncovered. It helps one put things in perspective at a time when Australia's state and federal leaders are asking us to let through reams of new security laws on trust. Western governments haven't delivered on the whole 'trust' thing since those planes hit the towers four years ago. Where they have succeeded is in persuading us to grant them ever more draconian powers for the duration of a war that as defined has no logical conclusion.

To be afraid, very afraid? Or to be alert, not alarmed? That is the question...

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Where were the human rights when terrorists destroyed WTC and Pentagon, killing thousands of innocent people who had nothing to do with politics? Where were human rights then? When terrorists kill innocent people, all the human rights go to sleep. But when terrorists die, every human rights advocates come to their aid. Are human rights only meant for terrorists and rapists?

RKO said...

"the War on Terrorism means the end of human rights..." It's very true because human rights thrive on terrorists to make a living. If terrorism and crime ends, it would be curtains for human rights.

John Lee said...

"When terrorists kill innocent people, all the human rights go to sleep"

I don't think there's any evidence for this statement. Human rights law prohibits what terrorists do as much as what the US govt has done since 9/11. The fact that HRL can't affect the behaviour of the terrorists but can affect that of the US govt is no reason for it not to pursue the latter objective.

Defending the rights of terrorists is not equivalent to sympathising with them. It's the same rationale for letting white supremacist nutters like Andrew Fraser speak their mind - basic rights often have to be protected in the most distasteful cases.

If the US govt wants to abolish the rule of law within its own borders, that's its own business. But they're not entitled to do the same for every other country in the name of American security.

rocky said...

Friend, let me make it clear, I am not a supporter of Bush or Iraq war. But let's face it, most of the human rights activists are actually in cahoots with terrorists and they support them in every possible way to continue spreading terror throughout the world.

John Lee said...

if you can give me an example of HR activists cooperating with terrorists, I'm all ears.

rocky said...

Human Rights' corruption can't be proved as of now, because they are wily cunning operators. Do you have any concrete proof of Bush's corruption? See the point. If such things were so easy to justify, then this world would would be "Crime free" place. But in any case you can't deny the fact that criminals feel encouraged to kill people because of the moral support from human rights. They know whatever they do, human rights will save them.

John Lee said...

Human rights are minimum standards that bind society's treatment of the individual, e.g. you can't torture people, you can't imprison them without trial. These are principles that liberal democracies were built on, long before 'human rights' emerged as a movement (post-1945).

Obviously criminals take advantage of rights like due process, but that's no reason to abolish them.
There's no evidence that basic rights encourage criminal behaviour in the first instance.

As for George Bush being corrupt, I've never said that. I don't believe he's 'corrupt' in the sense of exploiting his office for personal gain, although his administration has allowed certain interest groups to profit unethically and sometimes illegally (e.g. US companies in postwar Iraq).

rocky said...

Gandhi's assassin was hanged. Where were human rights? Human Rights always seem to moan about capital punishment, but didn't intervene that time. Surely Gandhi was a big shot, but his assassin didn't deserve a death penalty. Even if a bastard massacres 100s of people human rights always protect that bastard from death penalty. But in Gandhi's case they didn't protect his killer from death penalty. Don't forget, human rights were in full swing at that time. But they have their double standards. They are just too biased.

rocky said...

Lee, I partially agree with you. All the Human Rights activists aren't bad. But don't forget they are highly prejudiced and have double standards.

Anonymous said...

John, we are waiting for your precious comments.

John Lee said...

I'm flattered, anon.
But I do have a life outside this blog, so don't get antsy if you have to wait a day or two for replies

Rocky, you can't hold today's HR activists responsible for the Indian government's actions in the 1940's. In any case the global human rights movement was in its infancy back then, today I think you'd see quite a bit of protest about hanging someone like Godse.

Groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch don't apply double standards, they hold every government to the same principles. But often it's only their criticism of western governments that gets picked up by the media, which creates a false impression of bias. Or it's these criticisms that are latched onto and misrepresented by those for whom the US and Australia can do no wrong.

You can call them 'prejudiced' in the sense of sometimes being over-zealous and insensitive to structural or cultural constraints faced by target governments. But you can't accurately call them hypocrites.

10:31 PM