Regulars here know that I've written about our country's shameful human rights record over the last 7 years, as we've raced to the bottom in areas such as torture, privacy, indefinite detentions for people without meaningful rights to be heard, and things of the like. The NY Times has written an editorial that says it all, though, and notes, quite presciently, that our country is quickly becoming unrecognizable.
The reality is, we have not been the leader in support of human rights for the last decade only because it gives us some tactical or propaganda advantage against our enemies, we have done it because we felt that it distinguished us from our enemies. The reason was this was how you could tell good countries from bad - not just by the fact that they lined up on one side of the fence or another, but because of the quality of their character.
Quoth the Times:
Out of panic and ideology, President Bush squandered America’s position of
moral and political leadership, swept aside international institutions and
treaties, sullied America’s global image, and trampled on the constitutional
pillars that have supported our democracy through the most terrifying and
challenging times. These policies have fed the world’s anger and alienation and
have not made any of us safer.
As I've noted before, every dictator, every totalitarian, every petty despot, has claimed some national exigency that necessitates the use of extraordinary techniques - just this once - to deal with a vicious enemy. I don't even need to get Nazi with everyone, I can be far more recent and relevant - look at Mobutu in Zimbabwe, or Putin in Russia, or Hussein in Iraq, or any other despot. They all say the same thing, that these are trying times, and we need to take these extreme measures in the interest of national security.
And, for 60 years, since the end of World War II, the west, primarily pushed by the US, has said "No. Extreme times do not allow for measures that are, by all measures, simply wrong, in all instances." That was Nuremburg, that was the Geneva Accords, that was The Helsinki Accords, that was Ronald Reagan standing at the Berlin Wall and saying "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
And now, we have small minds and evil people (small being yes-men like Alberto Gonzalez, evil being Cheney and the cabal that surrounded him) saying that these things were fine for everyone else's problems, but now that we have problems, they can't apply to us.
The Times tells us where we have gone, in chillingly clear detail:
In the years since 9/11, we have seen American soldiers abuse, sexually
humiliate, torment and murder prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. A few have been
punished, but their leaders have never been called to account. We have seen
mercenaries gun down Iraqi civilians with no fear of prosecution. We have seen
the president, sworn to defend the Constitution, turn his powers on his own
citizens, authorizing the intelligence agencies to spy on Americans, wiretapping
phones and intercepting international e-mail messages without a warrant.
We have read accounts of how the government’s top lawyers huddled in secret after
the attacks in New York and Washington and plotted ways to circumvent the Geneva Conventions — and both American and international law — to hold anyone the president chose indefinitely without charges or judicial review.
Those same lawyers then twisted other laws beyond recognition to allow Mr. Bush to turn intelligence agents into torturers, to force doctors to abdicate their
professional oaths and responsibilities to prepare prisoners for abuse, and then
to monitor the torment to make sure it didn’t go just a bit too far and actually
In short, our country, which moved the world forward on the cause of freedom and human rights for 60 years by leading by example, has set the world back by backsliding on it. And realize this, the goal of Al Qaeda was not to win a war, it was not to kill every American. They know they are not able to do that. Their goal was to ruin our way of life by making us so overreact to them that we would no longer be the people that we once were.
They have certainly succeeded there.