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The Empire Has No Clothes

by Janet C. Phelan Monday, Dec. 13, 2010 at 8:42 PM
janet@janetphelan.com

The UN reviews (or does it?) the human rights record of the United States.

Last month, representatives from the U.S. State Department submitted to the first-ever international review (UPR) of the human rights record of the United States of America. Running a highly charged gauntlet of criticism ranging from the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to torture polices to allegations of excessive police force at home, U.S. responded with a display of a curious combination of concern, denial and self-congratulation.

In a three hour session held in Geneva Switzerland on November 5, 2010 the U.S. State Department made a number of policy statements which were abandoned within a week after the session wrapped up. The international community was repeatedly reassured that the current administration intended to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, a promise which was vacated within days, as the Washington Post reported that Obama was not able to close the facility.

In addition, State Department Legal Counsel Harold Koh assured the world community that all reports of torture would be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. Within a week, Special Prosecutor Durham announced that there would be no prosecution concerning the destruction of CIA torture tapes, an announcement which calls into question the promise made just days earlier.

And within one week of the U.S. assuring the world community that its commitment to due process and equal protection under the law remained intact, newspapers across the nation ran the story that Obama was claiming “unchecked authority” to order the assassination of U.S. citizens outside of war zones. If there was a shred of belief left in any one paying attention to these events that the U.S. had any intention of abiding by the rule of law, that tendril disintegrated in the face of the evidence that the US had veered off into despotism and imperial prerogative.

Other, less obvious contradictions plagued the review. The U.S. repeatedly stated its commitment to dialogue with human rights groups prior to the November review in Geneva. In fact, while several such meetings were held within the U.S. last Spring, the State Department failed to respond to a number of queries from human rights groups which opined to be included in those meetings. As a result, interested groups were excluded from participation.

Human Rights Alert is one of these. HRA was formed last Spring by Dr. Joseph Zernik for the purpose of engaging the UN UPR process. HRA´s carefully documented report covers a number of issues of legal concern, ranging from the year and a half incarceration on contempt of court charges of activist Los Angeles attorney Richard I. Fine, the false imprisonment of two of the Angola Three, the abandonment to their deaths of prisoners during Hurricane Katrina and more. HRA also concluded that when courts began computerizing their records, certain Constitutional safeguards fell to the wayside, resulting in an across the board revocation of certain rights as well as a generalized occluding of records where transparency is legally mandated.

HRA´s 90 plus page report was given less than a sentence tip of the hat in the UN summary report, which acknowledged HRA´s submission as pertaining to “corruption in the courts, the legal profession and discrimination by law enforcement in California.”

The 511 campaign submitted a report to the UPR which concerned identity and surveillance issues. The report stated that " Intrusive conditions and demands for intimate identity are being required in order to gain access to financial services. The entry of identity as conditional tender for purchasing and spending creates a slip stream of mechanical and digital data which is by and large not considered private, but owned by institutions which collect it."

The 511 Campaign Report goes on to dispute the legality of the top heavy identity and information gathering techniques which sprung into existence following September 11, arguing that "This often lends to credence to the idea that a person in the United States can be jailed or imprisoned based on their status of “being”. Citizens and immigrants have the basic right to exist as people without fear of being inherently and strategically criminalized for profit."

Swinging into full gear, the report alludes to an underlying eugenics agenda behind the identity craze, stating " It is our assessment those who have a strategy specific to eugenics and depopulation have infiltrated American politics through anti-immigrant and national security propulsions in the Republican caucuses and strategic complicity with this agenda through some of the Progressive Democrats and Conservative Democrats in US elected offices. A key part of this agenda is to routinely dehumanize the individual person and to break down personal boundaries by excessive and intrusive demands for identity to the identified person. The result is a dehumanized and systemically harassed individual who is denied what they need for not being able to verify at all times that they are in right standing with the state for 'being´."

There was no mention made of the 511 Campaign Report in the U.N. summary nor in the U.S. response.

ITHACA also formed in order to submit a report into the UPR. The ITHACA Report focused on domestic issues, as did HRA and the 511 Campaign, and detailed two areas of human rights concern—1) attacks on human rights defenders within the borders of the U.S. and 2) the revocation of civil and human rights and theft of assets in court authorized conservatorships. This latter is an issue which primarily impacts the elderly and disabled throughout the USA.

While the U.S. defended its human rights record vis a vis the vulnerable disabled, citing such legislation as the Americans with Disabilities Act, no mention was made of the conservatorship issue in either the U.N. summary nor in the U.S. response. The U.N. summary made mention that DREDF had stated that the disabled are not enjoying full rights in the U.S. The difference between “not enjoying full rights” and being systematically funneled into programs which strip them of their rights is a difference in both kind as well as magnitude. The reports concerning attacks on human rights defenders such as Susan Lindauer and Elena Sassower were not responded to by the delegation from the United States.

The United Nations expressly denied credentials to attend the event in Geneva to organizations which were not previously UN accredited. HRA, the 511 Campaign and ITHACA all fell into that cachement and were also refused credentials to attend the upcoming plenary sessions, which will take place this March. The plenary will provide an official opportunity for human rights groups to interact with the State Department concerning the review.

So--when the plenary session wraps up this historic review, who will get to sit at the table? The answer is that the plenary will include human rights groups which have been mainstreamed and have largely abided by the "over there" concerns which predominated the meeting in Geneva. These include Amnesty International (which has refused to respond to or investigate claims of U.S. citizens who are stating they have been tortured by the U.S. government) Reporters without Borders (which has been connected with CIA front groups in Latin America), the right wing think tank Heritage Foundation--in other words, groups which have narrowed their concerns to what the U.S. has delineated as "acceptable" human rights issues.

In a press release dated November 9, the U.S. State Department dismissed concerns as to legal meltdown within the U.S. in the following statement:

" A small set of comments do not make bona fide recommendations for the UPR. These statements, those styled as “recommendations,” are actually political criticisms of U.S. policies or polemical comments about judicial cases, based on unsubstantiated or false allegations, which refer to individual matters that are either ongoing or already completed under court proceedings conducted under due process of law."

Whatever recommendations were made as to the criminal justice system within the U.S. were answered within the press release, which stated:

" This set of recommendations focused on the role of race, trafficking, police brutality, violence against women, juvenile justice, and the death penalty. The U.S. criminal justice system rests on the protection of individual human rights and basic principles of due process and fair and equal treatment. We will leave no stone unturned in our effort to eliminate racial profiling in law enforcement, to ensure that juveniles in our justice system are treated with respect, and to guarantee humane treatment in detention. Many recommendations concern the administration of capital punishment by those governments within our federal system that still apply it. While we respect those who make these recommendations, we note that they reflect continuing policy differences, not a genuine difference about what international human rights law requires."

As this article goes to press, the blogs are convulsing over the arrest and subsequent bail revocation of Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder. Attorney General Eric Holder has been quoted promising to rewrite the laws to try Assange as a terrorist. In light of the recent review in Geneva, the message becomes clear: The American Empire will decide which issues are discloseable and open to discussion. Groups or individuals which bring to the table issues which are not on the agenda of the American Empire will not be attended to. Assange´s Wikileaks may actually end up producing a legal blowback in which disclosure of unapproved topics will not only be ignored, but may result in prosecution and imprisonment.

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