Sunday, April 26, 2009

Has the U.S abandoned respect for human rights?

Among the lasting memories I have of my years with Amnesty International are the conversations I had with people, women & men, who were victims of torture.

These were people from all walks of life who were caught up in political unrest, war, terrorism, genocide, and all the other ugliness that happens when one party wants to dominate another.

What I remember most vividly were the emotional scars they all bore. It was very difficult to hear their stories and even more difficult to watch them tell their stories.

Torture, according to the United Nations Convention Against Torture, is: "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a male or female person for such purposes as obtaining from him, or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.

Torture is most often sponsored by governments.

Torture is prohibited under international law and the domestic laws of most countries. Amnesty International estimates that at least 81 world governments currently practice torture, some openly.

In the 21st century, torture is widely considered to be a violation of human rights, and is declared to be unacceptable by Article 5 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Signatories of the Third Geneva Convention and Fourth Geneva Convention officially agree not to torture prisoners in armed conflicts. Torture is also prohibited by the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which has been ratified by 145 states.

National and international legal prohibitions on torture derive from a consensus that torture and ill-treatment are immoral, as well as being impractical. Despite these international conventions, however, many organizations (e.g. Amnesty International) that monitor abuses of human rights report a widespread use of torture condoned by states in many regions of the world.

So, when the United States of America engages in torture, either directly or indirectly (through the insidious practice of extraordinary rendition - sending prisoners to another country to be tortured) it is an arrow through our national heart. It degrades us.

It seriously undermines our moral and ethical authority and renders us impotent.

But, as we knew then and know better now, this country has been engaging in torture for the better part of the last decade.

With the direct knowledge and permission of President Bush and Vice-President Cheney, the U.S. engaged in practices most often identified with outlaw regimes and dictatorships.

But now that we have an opportunity to expose the sins and the crimes of the Bush Administration we are being urged by President Obama, by Democratic leaders like Harry Reed, and by the mainstream media, to act cautiously and not aggressively pursue the truth.

We are told that it will hamper efforts to move the country forward.

That's ridiculous.

What will hamper this country from moving beyond it's horrendous past is by suppressing the truth.

It is morally bankrupt to use the excuses and reasons being put forth by Obama, Reed and the mainstream media.

This country needs a Truth Commission to expose the truth about torture and to bring those responsible to justice.

There is simply no other way to heal our national wound.