William Schulz: Tainted Legacy

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Schulz, William. Tainted Legacy: 9/11 and the Ruin of Human Rights (New York: NationBooks, 2006)

William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International since 1994, wrote Tainted Legacy: 9/11 and the Ruin of Human Rights in 2003. This book is a follow-up of sorts to his previous work: In Our Own Best Interest: How Defending Human Rights Benefits Us All.

Neocons of all stripes (from George W. Bush to PNAC) and their dream of a 21st century Pax Americana comes in for heavy criticism from Schulz--not for their pro-freedom rhetoric, but for how inconsistent their actions are:

The problem is not that these neoconservatives think the world would be better off with less democracy or fewer regimes that respect human rights. The problem is that they have a very narrow, ideological understanding of human rights and would impose that understanding on the rest of the world. (p. 54)

[...]

...neoconservatives particularly love it [natural law theory] because it is imprecise enough to allow them to pick and choose the rights they like and discard the ones they find inconvenient. How interesting that, though the biological needs for food and shelter are probably the common human traits least difficult to establish, neither Fukuyama nor his neoconservative counterparts would ever be caught dead arguing that social and economic rights (as opposed to the right to property and corporate competition) are indisputable imperatives derived from human nature. (pp. 115-6)

Schulz takes a hard line toward the inconsistencies and outright contradictions in our foreign policy, such as our 1980s assistance to Iraq that included, among other things, "satellite photos, a computerized database to track political opponents, helicopters, video surveillance cameras, chemical analysis equipment, and numerous shipments of 'bacteria/fungi/protozoa.' A 1994 Senate Banking Committee investigation discovered that the United States had shipped dozens of biological agents, including strains of anthrax, to Iraq in the mid-1980s." (p. 70)

He also notes of our stance toward Israel that "the United States' frequent failure to condemn Israeli human rights violations... leaves America open to the charge that it promulgates a double standard." (p. 76) He also excoriates our extra-judicial prison at Guantanamo, observing that it provides nations such as Egypt and Pakistan "a veil of sanction for their own miscreant deeds and sends a signal that, regardless of what we profess, we believe that international agreements like the Geneva Conventions apply to us only when it is convenient." (p. 95)

The elevation of Alberto Gonzales (who called the Geneva Conventions "quaint") to the position of Attorney General makes this observation even more relevant. Schulz then goes on to discuss 9/11 and demonstrate how it has given cover to the Bush administration in numerous circumstances:

In its "anything goes" mentality in the fight against terrorism; its inclination to downplay, if not ignore, even the most egregious human rights violations of its allies; its tendency to see terrorists under every turban; its conviction that international covenants mean little and matter less, the Bush administration has done more to damage human rights in its two and a half years in office than the occasional hypocrisy and frequent indifference of nine previous presidents put together. And it has done so largely with the acquiescence of the American people. (pp. 105-6)

He also points out the example of our unsanctioned 2003 invasion (and ongoing occupation) of Iraq, noting that: "One of the great paradoxes of the war on terrorism is that at the very time the United States is most determined to defend its own sovereignty from attack, it is more inclined than ever to violate the sovereignty of other independent states." (p. 135) Far from being a starry-eyed idealist, though, Schulz uses the 1994 Rwandan genocide to illustrate the perils of ignoring necessary intervention:

Under extreme circumstances, state sovereignty may well appropriately give way to intervention, whether it be to pursue terrorists, end grave abuses, or deter the conflation of the two. But in the long run there is a far better solution to human rights crimes than military retaliation, and that is international justice. (pp. 147-8)

Schulz closes the book with an idealism that is stronger by being tempered by realism, noting that human rights "sometimes require a big stick in addition to soft speaking. [...] Human rights are not for the faint of heart; they are not the province of wimps, but of the stubborn and the robust." (p. 210)

One can only hope that Schulz plans a follow-up book on the Bush administration torture scandals--from Abu Ghraib to extraordinary rendition--which came to light after Tainted Legacy was published. Amnesty International's 2005 report on the United States (which covers the events of 2004) shows some of the items from which such a book could be assembled.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on January 9, 2006 1:32 PM.

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