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Dr. Doebbler: "A fair fight?"

Dear Editor,

Despite having committed perhaps more serious and massive violations of more individual's human rights during the last year than all other countries in the world put together, the United States has avoided the scrutiny of the UN Commission on Human Rights. How did they do it?

One might have hoped by reforming its dismal human rights record that has allowed it to take the lives of tens of thousands of foreigners through illegal invasions (the right to life is a norm of jus cogens according to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights), to treat foreigners inhumanely and even ratify such treatment by law  (no governments that I know of--except the US and Israel--have ever had courts state expressly that individuals under their jurisdiction could be tortured with impunity); and by breaching the customary international law (perhaps also jus cogens; and expressly treaty law binding on the US) prohibiting discrimination. Some statements by American President George W. Bush over the last several years (repeated again during the past year) even amount to express intention to commit genocide against religious or ethnic groups. Have these statements stopped? Has America reformed it human rights record? No, this is not how it avoided scrutiny. Instead it took the much less honorable step--even a cowardly and arguably illegal step that indicated bad faith in the implementation of its international human rights law obligations--of threatening other countries so that Cuba would withdraw a resolution calling for the investigation of America's human rights record.

The United States, as only Cuba had the courage to explain in public when it honorably withdrew its resolution to avoid further politicization of the Commission's process by the United States, approached several countries that have or are believed to have citizens in Guantбnamo Bay and threatened that they would delay their release if their governments supported Cuba's resolution. Sounds suspiciously like hostage taking to me? And, yes, the four Geneva Conventions do apply to the US even outside the theater of war?

As you know I have been involved in trying to protect the right of some Guantбnamo Bay prisoners for several year now, oddly while the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights accepted a request for precautionary measures from the lawyers of prisoners from mostly countries who are friendly with the United States, it has refused to even deal with an even earlier petition I submitted claiming violations of the rights of the prisoners from Afghanistan and Pakistan and elsewhere in the region as well. There is evidence to suggest that the United States is behind stifling the Commission's action. I am not suggesting that the Commission takes instructions from the US government, but rather that it is intimidated by it. Once before a US official actually told me that the United States would not allow a case to go ahead against a government that the US supported. Oddly, at that time the Commission also took extraordinary measure to ensure that the case did not precede...that was almost six years ago and the case concerned remains unresolved and individuals still incarcerated in violation of their human rights. Within a year that government resigned and left power, I wonder if this could be an omen or example for the Bush administration, I sure hope so, although I rather doubt their ability to learn from their mistakes.

More likely these activities are merely destroying respect for the rule of law, especially international human rights law. Several governments I spoke to in Geneva even speculated about withdrawing from some UN human rights procedures. They see little value in these procedures if the richest and most military deadly country in the world is not bound by them. And they see even less value if this country, the United States, is going to continue to act in bad faith.

Imagine what non-state actors think. If you are from a western NGO you are probably annoyed and may even be critical of the United States' actions. You can rest, however, comfortably by believing that all the US actions are being taken to allegedly keep you safe. No matter whether or not this is irrational reasoning or an outright lie, you may well force yourself to believe it because otherwise you have to question the very legitimacy of the law and the power that governs you and provides at least part of your identity.

It is different if you are a member of a non-state actor in the south--especially in the Middle East, Asia, Africa or an Islamic country--you will probably be more than mad, you may feel the urgent need to take all necessary steps to protect the rule of law that is the only thin cloak of protection for justice in your life, or even steps to protect your life and the life of future generations of your children. You will look at the United States' actions and you will consider how these actions have failed you and show the failure of the international law.

As a consequence--sometimes a direct consequence--you may decide that you need to use all necessary means to protect your life and the life of your loved one. Like the United States--but with much better reason because you are among the vulnerable, exploited, and oppressed--you may decide to act outside the law. Your justification will be that the law no longer functions to protect the interests of justice and in fact is used as cloak of protection for your enemies.

You can criticize such actions, but first put yourself in these peoples' shoes, and then I think you would not. Realize that they are using the same means and methods that we are using only modified by their lack of precision technology which we deny them. In other words it is not a fair fight. We slaughter them with impunity and even claming protection from the laws; they fight back as best they can. We call them terrorists, they, with the simplicity that betrays the justice of their cause merely call us "evil" because we have drained the terms "legal" and "illegal" of their meaning. 


Dr. Doebbler