By Ted Braun
Political leaders in the U.S., such as President Obama, have frequently mentioned in their talks that our nation is the best one in the world. This past week, however, our nation came under sharp criticism from two sources—one national and the other international.
On March 11 Diane Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, accused the CIA of sabotaging the committee’s oversight work. Through subterfuge and legal threats the CIA has been trying to keep secret a 6,300 page history of a torture program against “war on terror” detainees that had been authorized by President George W. Bush and overseen by Vice President Dick Cheney.
After being elected, Obama had unfortunately hesitated to make a clean break from Bush’s “war on terror” policies of waterboarding detainees, renditioning suspects to Mideast torture centers, using made-up intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq, and including neoconservative holdovers as advisers. News reporter Robert Parry has commented, “When historians set off to write the story of Barack Obama’s administration, they will have to struggle with why the 44th President chose not to hold his predecessor accountable for grave crimes of state and why he failed to take control of his own foreign policy.”
On March 14 the U.N. Human Rights Committee meeting in Geneva began a two-day examination of the U.S. human rights record, its first since 2006. The Committee is charged with upholding the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a U.N. treaty that the U.S. ratified in 1992. At this meeting the U.S. came under sharp criticism for its counter-terrorism tactics of using unmanned drones to kill al-Qaida suspects, its transfer of suspects to other countries that practice torture, and its failure to prosecute any of the officials responsible.
The U.S. rejected this criticism, however, stating its belief that the rights treaty “imposes no human rights obligations on American military and intelligence forces when they operate abroad.” “The United States continues to believe that its interpretation—that the covenant applies only to individuals both within its territory and within its jurisdiction—is the most consistent with the covenant’s language and negotiating history.”
The Rights Committee also strongly criticized the following domestic programs in the U.S.:
The disproportionate representation of African Americans on death rows. It pointed to the release last week in Louisiana of Glenn Ford, the 144th person on death row in the U.S. to be exonerated since 1973.
The rampant gun violence. 470,000 crimes are committed with firearms each year, including about 11,000 homicides.
The proliferation of stand-your-ground gun laws.
Enduring racial disparities in the justice system, including large numbers of black prisoners serving longer sentences than whites for similar offenses.
Mistreatment of mentally ill and juvenile prisoners.
Segregation in schools.
High levels of homelessness and criminalization of homeless people.
Racial profiling by police, including the mass surveillance of Muslim communities by the New York Police Department.
The head of the U.S. delegation, Mary McLeod, a senior official in the State Department, said: “While we are certainly not perfect, our network of federal, state, and local institutions provide checks on government... Since the founding of our country, in every generation there have been Americans who sought to realize our constitution’s promise of equal opportunity and justice for all.”
Do you have the same hope in the future that Mary McLeod seems to have?
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This column by local writers is dedicated to the theme that the lion and the lamb can and must learn to live together and grow in their relationship toward one another to ensure a better world of peace and justice. Opinions expressed in “Lion and Lamb” columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. For more information, contact Ted Braun, column coordinator, at 277-5135.