When it comes to the matter of international human rights, the Bush administration is a grotesque embarrassment to us all.
Consider poor Zhao Yan, the New York Times researcher from the paper's Beijing bureau, who is languishing in a Chinese prison charged with leaking state secrets.
President Bush (who knows a thing or two about leaking state secrets himself) is said to be "concerned" about Zhao, and has supposedly made two "personal appeals" on his behalf to Chinese leaders.
Who, I'm guessing, must have blown tea up their noses as they read the president's appeals.
This, after all, is the same President Bush who has been holding hundreds of people, including children, without charge, in atrocious conditions at the Guantanamo Naval Station in Cuba and at the Bagram airbase prison in Afghanistan (as well as at a number of secret gulags around the world), who has kept several Americans in solitary confinement for several years without even charging them with a crime, and who has sicced his "Justice Department" on those who leaked word of his criminal domestic spying program to reporters at the New York Times.
Bush has almost single-handedly squandered whatever moral authority the U.S. once had to stand up for human rights around the world by his willful trashing of basic rights in this country.
Like China, the U.S. has a fine-sounding Constitution. But like China, it has a leadership which looks at that document as a museum exhibit, not a living guide to how the government should be run.
A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine who runs a computer services business that installs automated toll collection systems on bridges and highways was off to work on an installation at a bridge to an island on the south New Jersey shore. With him was an Israeli friend in the same type of business. As they drove his van through the back roads of the area, trying to get to the site, he made a wrong turn and found himself driving into a restricted U.S. Coast Guard area. He was suddenly surrounded by armed men in humvees who arrested the two men and hauled them off to a Coast Guard station. There they were roughly hauled into two separate rooms and interrogated for some time.
Both men were yelled at by young officers who clearly had decided they had terrorists on their hands. "I was pretty worried," my friend reports. "I was thinking they could just haul me off to Guantanamo Bay and not tell anyone where I was."
His Israeli friend, who tried to point out that Israel was a staunch ally of America, was rudely told by his interrogator, "Israel is not an American ally." (That would be news to the neocons ruling Washington!)
At no point was he offered a chance to call an attorney or to get help by phone to confirm his identity and his story. Eventually, the two men were rescued by New Jersey State Police Troopers, who had been called in by the Coasties. "The police recognized that we were just two guys who’d gotten lost," says my friend, "and they were able to talk the Coast Guard guys down and get us out of there safely."
That should have been the end of the story, but this is Bush's America, and so two weeks later, my friend says he was visited by the FBI, in the form of an agent who questioned him at length about his business, and about what he had been doing in south Jersey. That interview, at his home, was followed by a phone interview. In the end, the agent told him he could expect to be investigated by other agencies of the government too.
Odds are that now that he has entered the system as a person of interest, he will be in endless government files for years to come.
The point is, my friend was lucky the state cops came onto the scene.
In Bush's America, it is now possible for people like him who run afoul of the Homeland Security apparatus to simply disappear.
According to this president ,who claims to be so concerned about civil liberties in China, he has the power to strip even an American citizen of his basic rights, to lock him up in secret without charge, without access to family or an attorney, and to hold him as long as he wants—perhaps even to "try" him before a closed, secret military tribunal and even to execute him--if he decides that that person is an "enemy combatant."
One can certainly hope that the unfortunate Zhao Yan will gain his freedom. My years living and working in China have given me ample experience with that nation’s communo-fascist regime, including my own detention and interrogation at the hands of state security goons, who brutalized a Chinese colleague after my departure.
But the thought of Bush, who has authorized torture of American captives, and who has undermined fundamental rights like the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair and public trial, the right to be charged and to face one's accuser, and even basic freedom of speech and assembly, expressing "concern" about China's abuses of human rights is enough to make me sick.
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