[TODAY]U.S. trampling on human rightsThe head of a government department opposes the president's decision and asks that it be overturned. But other cabinet members and the president's advisers argue strongly that the original decision was correct. When someone in the president's entourage leaks the fact of the dispute to the newspapers, it becomes a controversial issue around the globe.
That is the basic outline of the current situation in the Bush administration in Washington regarding the treatment of Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
President Bush recently said that the captives were not soldiers but "unlawful combatants," and therefore are not protected under the Geneva Convention regarding prisoners of war. Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft supported the president on the treatment of the captives, but Secretary of State Colin L. Powell argued that the captives should be granted rights as prisoners of war according to the Geneva Convention, considering international reaction to the issue. Mr. Powell is concerned that the solidarity of the international community, necessary for the ongoing war against terrorists, will be jeopardized if the captives are denied their rights and privileges as prisoners of war and placed before U.S. military tribunal.
If the captives are given those rights, as Secretary Powell insists, they would have the right to remain silent and only give out their names, ranks and service numbers. If that were to happen, the Pentagon's plan to obtain useful information on Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network from the captives would fail. Neither the State Department nor the Defense Department will back down from their positions regarding the captives, since the interests of the two departments contradict each other.
Already the European Union, Germany, Great Britain and France have pressured the United States to apply the Geneva Convention to the captives. The foreign minister of Germany pressed for a revision of President Bush's policy regarding the captives when he called in the American ambassador. Pressure from the international community has been acknowledged to some degree; the United States has temporarily suspended the transfer of 302 additional captives from Afghanistan. There are currently 158 persons confined at Guantanamo Bay.
But it seems most likely that the Bush administration will not change its policy. Actually, the United States is a country that interferes with the human rights of every other nation in the world.
The United States has interfered in the Chechen Republic in Russia, Tibet, Xingjiang, Iraq, Iran and North Korea on human rights grounds. In the case of Bosnia and Kosovo, the U.S. military conducted armed interventions under the justification of humanitarian obligations.
Ironically, the United States is the only country in the global community that has been convicted by the International Court of Justice in The Hague for exercising unlawful force. The United States in the 1980s provided weapons to the Nicaraguan Contras, who rebelled against the Sandinista government there. "Unlawful use of force" is a gentle term for terrorism.
The International Court of Justice ruled that the United States should compensate for the damage it caused and ordered the interference of the U.S. government in Nicaragua to cease, but the Reagan administration declared that it would not accept the ruling. Nicaragua brought the issue before both the United Nations Security Council and the General Assembly.
The Nicaragua question went nowhere when the United States exercised its veto at the UN Security Council and opposed, with Israel, its consideration by the UN General Assembly.
Nicaragua is not the only case where the United States has made mistakes regarding human rights. The economic sanctions imposed on Iraq which brought indirect suffering and death on many occasions to the people of Iraq were criticised internationally as an inhumane act. Additionally, the Clinton administration was criticized in 1998 for bombing a pharmaceutical company that supplied more than half of the vaccine for malaria in Sudan. The people of Sudan were deprived of access to the vaccine at affordable prices.
There are also allegations that the United States supported the attempted "cleansing" of Kurds in Turkey. The United States is also criticized for being reluctant to take action against violations of human rights in oil-producing countries ruled by monarchs. The people of Palestine criticize the United States for feeling compassionate only toward Israel, while accusing Palestine of committing acts of terror.
Considering the shock American citizens suffered from the premeditated cruel acts of terrorism on Sept. 11, maybe it is too much to ask for the Bush administration to treat the captives gently as prisoners of war.
But this issue may have a silver lining if it leads the United States to set a consistent policy regarding other countries' human rights issues.
The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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