America’s Human Rights Message to China: Do As I Say, Not As I Do!
As China’s State Visit to America winds up, an air of self-righteous indignation permeates much of the conversation among those eager for a reason to disagree with any understandings or agreements that President Barack Obama and President Hu Jintao were able to achieve. In fact, even Obama addressed, if only in general, the concerns of the American people over what are perceived to be the human rights violations by the Chinese government.
America, the country that has 2,500,000 citizens in prison, and over 3,200 awaiting execution — more than any other country in the world by far — is apparently concerned about China’s human rights record. When racism is obvious, not only in the prison and judicial system but also throughout society, reflected in wage disparities as well as unemployment figures, health, and general standards of living, Americans seem to be in no position to lecture anyone else.
Yet somehow, Americans, living in a country that is currently invading two other countries that have never attacked them, or even threatened to attack them, and are carrying out drone strikes in a third, feel they are in a position of moral superiority to lecture others on what Americans feel are human rights violations.
Americans often cite what they consider to be China’s lack of freedom of speech and harsh treatment of its political opposition. Americans say this as American politicians, pundits, and legislators call for actions including everything from kidnapping and incarceration, to assassination, against Julian Assange, the editor and chief of WikiLeaks, for simply publishing information leaked by others that happens to embarrass the American government and expose its malfeasance. And, not to be outdone by any totalitarian regime, the FBI, under the Obama administration, has conducted numerous raids on the homes of anti-war activists. Yet despite this, there seems to be absolutely no compunction about arrogantly attempting to hold another country to account on the issues of free speech and obstruction of political opposition.
Over 2,000,000 Iraqi civilians, and 24,000 Afghan civilians have been killed or injured since the unprovoked American invasion of their countries. The number of Pakistani civilians killed by American drone strikes in their country is difficult to assess, as the American military refuses to share its data. Figures range from several hundreds to close to 2,000. None of these countries has threatened or attacked America. Yet, Americans feel justified in criticizing China.
Perhaps Americans are able to turn a blind eye to the human rights abuses that they outsource around the globe. Perhaps only funding and supporting Israel as it assaults and violates the Palestinian people makes it better than doing it within ones own borders. Perhaps invading other people’s countries and violating their human rights doesn’t count. Perhaps labeling someone a criminal, even for a non-violent crime, justifies the inhumane treatment and exploitation of them, just as giving the label of ‘insurgents’ to innocent civilians, perhaps defending themselves, perhaps not, after you’ve invaded their country, makes it all seem more justified.
The prison at Guantanamo Bay is still open for business. Prisoners are still being held without charge or due process. Despite Obama’s campaign promise to close the prison, it remains open and the violations continue. A covert prison system set up by the CIA soon after the invasion of Iraq has operated prisons in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several countries in Eastern Europe, as well as the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, according to intelligence officials and diplomats. The current status of this clandestine system is unknown, but there have been no announcements of any closures of these facilities either.
There was actually a debate over whether water-boarding was torture, and yet another debate about whether it should be allowed anyway. Human rights?
In February 2011, the Patriot Act will once again be up for either extension or discontinuation. American citizens, under the Patriot Act (allowed to continue by President Obama once already), are subject to gross violations of their constitutionally protected rights and freedoms. Warrantless wiretapping, eavesdropping and spying, are all part of a judicial system that now includes indefinite detention without due process. Suspicion is all it takes to rob you of your freedoms. Evidence and due process are no longer standards of the American judicial system.
The fact that President Obama was last year’s recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, and this year’s winner is sitting in a Chinese prison, seems a cruel joke. When last years winner is prosecuting two illegitimate wars, conducting drone strikes in a third country, pursuing a journalist simply because he published material that the American government and its corporate and financial backers do not want published, and is poised to continue the American Patriot Act, severely impinging on the rights and freedoms of the citizens of his own country, the title of Nobel Peace Prize winner seems completely unjustified and criticism of China a blatant hypocrisy.
During the recent kerfuffle regarding who is more violent in America, the right or the left, a friend of mine, Michael McGehee, of Zcommunications, shook me from my tunnel vision and reminded me that with these global atrocities still being committed in the name of all Americans, no one has the right to claim innocence, let alone take solace in being part of what they believe to be the more peaceful portion of a violent whole. While the left was mightily indignant at the violent rhetoric of the right, all seemed to forget that as a nation, as a people, America has a military so large, and spread out so far across the globe, that the sun never sets on the U.S. armed forces or the atrocities it commits and supports.
This does not excuse, by any means, the human rights violations committed by China, or any other country for that matter. This article only addresses America. If America thinks that it is the country to mount a soap-box proudly in defense of human rights and respect for humanity, it needs to take a long, hard, honest look at itself and broach the subject as a shared challenge rather than with a disingenuous air of superiority. The only American exceptionalism on display here is its exceptional ability to excuse itself for that which it would gladly condemn and prosecute others.