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A failure of democracy and human rights - Daily News Egypt

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A failure of democracy and human rights

By Dr Cesar Chelala It is a sad day for democracy when 12 Nobel Peace Laureates write a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to close one of the darkest chapters of recent US history by acknowledging, and then rejecting, the “flagrant use of torture and other violations of international law” that had been …

Dr. Cesar Chelala
Dr. Cesar Chelala

By Dr Cesar Chelala

It is a sad day for democracy when 12 Nobel Peace Laureates write a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to close one of the darkest chapters of recent US history by acknowledging, and then rejecting, the “flagrant use of torture and other violations of international law” that had been conducted with the excuse of “fighting for terrorism” since 2001. That the recipient of the letter is a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate himself makes the situation ludicrous. That he presides over the country purported to be one of the world’s leading democracies makes the situation even more incongruous.

For those of us who used to admire President Obama for his avowed stand on human rights, his re-election seemed to give him the opportunity to fulfil the promises he made regarding the closure of Guantanamo, the use of torture, and the killing of innocent people in several countries in conflict.

However, we are still to see a determined action from him on the human rights front, to which he only paid so far lip service. And it makes us wonder who really holds power in the US? How is it possible that the president of the most powerful country in the world is unable to rally the support necessary to end one of the most disgraceful policies of the US government?

Although six months have passed since the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence voted to release its 480-page executive summary of its review of the nation’s “enhanced interrogation” programme, the release of the unabridged and uncensored summary has not yet happened.

The reasons for this situation are not a secret. As the committee’s leader, California’s Senator Dianne Feinstein stated last April: “The report exposes brutality that stands in stark contrast to our values as a nation. It chronicles a stain in our history that must never again be allowed to happen.”

In a two-year study, the Constitution Project, a US independent group, concluded that it was indisputable that US forces had employed torture as well as “cruel, inhuman or degrading” treatment in many interrogations; that “the nation’s most senior officials” bear ultimate responsibility for allowing and contributing to the spread of these techniques; and that there is substantial evidence that information obtained by these methods was neither useful nor reliable.

The US Supreme Court has held since the 1890s that punishments that involve torture are prohibited under the Eighth Amendment that states: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” The US is a party to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which originated in the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1984, and that was signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 and ratified by the Senate on 27 October 1990.

In addition, the US is a party to the following conventions that prohibit torture: the American Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights signed in 1977 and ratified in 1992.

In 2006 the military issued field manuals on intelligence collection and counterinsurgency that stressed that “no person in the custody or under the control of the Department of Defence, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in accordance with and as defined in US law.

However, despite these guidelines, the US military systematically violated these rules both at Guantánamo, in Abu Ghraib, and in more than 17 countries where both US citizens and foreign nationals were transferred to US administered detention facilities, where they were held incommunicado for periods of months and even years. That happened in spite of the fact that the Convention Against Torture proscribes signatory states from transferring a detainee to other countries “where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture”.

Those actions, taken in full knowledge of the President of the United States led the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates to say: “We have reason to feel strongly about torture. Many of us among the Nobel Peace Prize laureates have seen firsthand the effects of the use of torture in our own countries. Some are torture survivors ourselves. Many have also been involved in the process of recovery, of helping to walk our countries and our regions out of the shadows of their own periods of conflict and abuse.”

“It is with this experience that we stand firmly with those Americans who are asking the US to bring its use of torture into the light of day, and for the United States to take the necessary steps to emerge from its dark period of its history, never to return.”

Dr Cesar Chelala is a winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.

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  • sam enslow

    Now let’s see you have the same discusions about Egypt. You are free to criticise Obama for now saying more about actions taken under GW Bush, but try that in the new deocracy of Egypt. Say something against the army, police, or the courts and see what happens. Obamaa has done more than just talk. He stopped the activity He has tried to close Gitmo, but Republican passed legislation has made that impossible until countries that will not torture the remaining prisoners are found to accept them. Tell more half truths and complain more about the the terrible US, but never admit that an Egyptian ever did anything wrong then act suprised that the US taxpayers are not more willing to help Egypt. The US has many problems and we are all alowed to voice our opinions on them. Try that here. Clean your house first.

    • Reda Sobky

      You have a way of using any grist from any mill to attack Egypt and even when the glaring defects of American democracy are presented you try your best to twist it to attack Egypt. Who are you? Do you hate Egypt so much you have to keep this constant attack even in time of war. Your arguments are specious and you clearly are part of the propaganda machine of the deposed, this is the future of a nation we are dealing with not a hobby of yours. Some good self criticism could help you straighten your ways, try it, you’ll like it.

      • sam enslow

        You have been around too long to believe I have ever had any use for The Brothers. I used toi run timelines comparing theire government to Nazi Germany while attempting to show the international audience that The Brothers did not equal Islam.
        If I comment on attacks on the US, it is toi show how easy it is to criticise others while not looking at yourelf I also try to show a US reaction to so called “facts” that do not ring true.
        Egypt is capable of great things’ but you yourself also point out where you believe it goes in the wromg direction. If Egyptians are to realize their dreams of being a great people, they must demand the best of themselves. I respect Egyptians and will say when I believe they are batiung at less than their best, especially in these troubled times. One can agree or disagree. That is part of democracy.
        There is an old saying, “Those who trade Liberty for Security get neither. . .
        The Egyptian people deserve more than, “The great Egyptian people who built the Pyramids.” That is not praise. That is populist rhetoric. Egypt faces many problems, it can solve when it faces them. Treat Egyptians like mature men and women, and they will react accordingly.

        • Reda Sobky

          Thank you for your articulate response. When one’s country has been the subject of invasion and colonization by numerous regional and world power, a collective sensitivity develops to the sequence that precedes the attempt at conquest. For example, the 1882 British invasion used saving the peasants as its justification to the British audience. Now it feels like the sequence was interrupted by the vigilance of the people and the army. The war is still on now and you are cognizant of the various agendas and double handed games. Should not Egypt have a similar latitude as other societies have and US society did when Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus? If the state is allowed to fall to the invading forces and the fifth column, the country will become unrecognizable like Syria, Iraq, Yemen or Libya and now is the time to save it.

          • sam enslow

            All countries have histories of wars and invasions as well as other wrongs done to them by others. World War II was terrible and many suffered. Our War of Indendence was also terrible. Who are the strongest of allies today – USA, Great Britian, Japan, and Germany. It is possible to dwell on the past and its grievances, but that will not build a future. Dwelling on the past can easily become a reasoin not to advance or face the future. It can also become an excuse for a nation’s short comings.
            McCarthyism and that era of the 1950’s did great harm to the US. Anyone not agreeing with a branch of the Republican party was labled a communist sympathiser. Many innocent people got caught in this web. It is very easy to label any criticism as an enemy action rather than address compl.icated issues. Wars of ideas must be fought with other ideas – not personal attacks. Prove the opposition wrong by facts.
            A war on terror is very hard to fight. Kill six terrorists and you could create 60 more – relatives seeking revenge.
            The battle must include the one for hearts and minds. I beieve that war will be won or lost in the local mosques and churches

  • dcayman

    Classic case of pot calling the kettle black

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