Monday, May 23, 2005


Editorial: Outsourcing of Torture

The editorial below was published in the Arab News newspaper in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on May 21.

The Bush administration misses no chance to trumpet its devotion to the ideal of upholding the rule of law at home and abroad. It has imposed sanctions on those regimes with a poor record in the rule of law, especially those suspected of torturing prisoners. Yet increasingly the evidence is that Washington is quite prepared to cut corners and split legal hairs to justify actions which, in less heightened times, US legislators and jurists would reject out of hand.

Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, Bagram air base in Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib in Iraq all serve to undermine American claims that they are behaving with justice and fairness.

Now comes no less serious evidence that US spies have been kidnapping terrorist suspects and handing them over to governments where beatings and torture are a regular part of the treatment of detainees, against whom no guilty verdict has yet been delivered by the courts.

Investigations are under way in three European states — Sweden, Germany and Italy — into the abduction of suspected international terrorists, who were then flown, often in US aircraft, to third countries for interrogation in order to wring confessions from these individuals.

If these strong suspicions are confirmed, then Washington will be convicted of deeply depressing cynicism. So far Bush administration officials have protested that as and when alleged terrorists have been handed over, often to their home countries, it has only been following an assurance from the local authorities that the men will not be tortured in order to extract information from them and will be given fair trials.

Human rights groups maintain that such protests are nonsense. Many suspects have been tortured and their trials have been travesties of justice.

It simply will not do for the United States to be a strident champion of human rights one minute and then use, either directly or indirectly, torture on people that it chooses to believe have somehow placed themselves beyond the protection of law. For a start, this double standard totally undermines all the criticism that Washington has launched against China, Russia, Cuba and Middle East countries for the selfsame abuse of human rights.

World leaders who have to endure these self-righteous lectures from top American politicians can stifle a yawn and ignore them. In the tough world of realpolitik, maybe this duplicity is not so important. But among ordinary people across the world, it is.

President Bush’s readiness to abandon his own high standards just whenever it suits him is corrosive of fragile confidence. Washington’s double standard is a betrayal of all those who hope that somehow America can take a leading role in the region and not only defeat Al-Qaeda but can also bring a just and lasting settlement to Palestine.

Tragically, every time the United States approves an abuse of human rights, it gives another victory to the terrorists and another defeat to all decent people, who expected better of the Land of the Free whose citizens pledge “liberty and justice for all”.