“America did not invent human rights. In a very real sense human rights invented America.” –President Jimmy Carter
Without a clinical, dictionary definition, human rights are a set of moral principles intended to set a standard for human behavior. The United States seems to hold itself to the fact that we are a nation that perfectly encompasses this ideology. As feeling so superior, the US condemns and criticizes other nations for a lack of their own civil liberties, though these condemnations can often be tempered depending on American interest in the region. For instance, President Obama recently stated with regards to Saudi Arabia, “Sometimes we have to balance our need to speak to [other countries] about human rights issues with immediate concerns that we have in terms of countering terrorism or dealing with regional stability.” Despite the subtle language, without a doubt, the idea is that Saudi Arabia is notorious for its barbaric treatment of criminals; however, are the Saudi Arabian and American governments are really that different in this matter, and in light of recent events, can we really be so self-righteous as to call out other nations and consider ourselves an example?
On December 9, 2014, a CIA official report was released, revealing advance interrogation techniques used by the United States on suspected terrorists. These techniques were horrific, to say the least, and exposed a shameful side of our nation, one that succumbs to archaic policy and barbaric treatment of its alleged criminals. It is no secret that the United States has used torture methods in the past, most notably at Guantanamo Bay, but the irrational nature of these practices were unknown. These techniques include rectal feeding (as a means of behavior control), sleep deprivation, and the forceful use of diapers, among other techniques. There is also evidence that CIA officials had threatened to hurt, kill, and rape family members of the detainees. Additionally, the report stated that the United States paid two psychologists approximately $80 million to develop new interrogation procedures–in other words, $80 million spent towards the torture of human beings.
Furthermore, the United States has repeatedly paid foreign governments to use certain locations in their countries as “black sites.” At least 26 detainees in such areas were eventually deemed innocent after being wrongfully tortured. Of these 26 innocent prisoners, two were imprisoned and tortured solely based on allegations from another prisoner, two were former intelligence sources tortured on accident, and one was a mentally challenged man who was held just to get family members to relay information. Only three of the innocent prisoners were released one month after being arrested, while others were wrongfully persecuted for months.
These enhanced torture methods and techniques were used in the post-9/11 era, during the Bush Administration, and on January 22, 2009, President Obama signed an executive order, essentially banning all forms of unlawful interrogation. Though at first glance one might assume that this was a sufficient answer to the problem, further research alludes to the fact that this might have been only a temporary solution.
Simply put, the power behind an executive order is too weak, and too tempermental. A court case, act of Congress, or a new president can easily overturn the order. This order can even be overturned behind closed curtains, without any sort of public statement or announcement. US officials have the ability to either declassify the order, or keep it undisclosed. Furthermore, an executive order can also be signed in secret. President Bush did this in 2002 when allowing NSA to eavesdrop on Americans. Therefore, the general population’s feelings don’t seem to matter. It is also important to note that there are still quite a few public officials who believe torture is a worthy method of interrogation, as evidenced by former Vice President Dick Cheney when he said, “[he’d] do it again in a minute” when asked about the innocent victims of torture and the margin of error.
As mentioned from the outset, the United States isn’t alone. A close friend of the US, Saudi Arabia is also guilty of using torture techniques on alleged criminals. In 2002, a Saudi Arabian prisoner was released after being imprisoned for six years without any sort of charge or prosecution. He described how he and his fellow convicts were tortured, as they faced “beating with sticks, whips, and electric cables; use of a revolving electric chair until the victim loses consciousness and begins to vomit; sleep deprivation for long periods, up to one week; and forcing the victim to stand on one leg and raise one arm for extended periods.” Additionally, he claimed that detainees were sexually harassed. William Sampson’s imprisonment is a famous example of torture in the Kingdom; Sampson was arrested and held in a Saudi Arabian prison for approximately three years before he was tortured into confessing crimes that he did not commit. He went on to write Confessions of an Innocent Man: Torture and Survival in a Saudi Prison, which described his experience in Saudi Arabia. Just like the United States, Saudi Arabia considers torture illegal, but again, many have voiced their support for its use.
The similarities run even deeper when you continue to compare the inequitable prosecutions of each country’s own citizens. Between 2007 and 2013, the Saudis reported 502 executions and a further 23 in August of 2014–a record high for the Saudis. In the United States there were 34 executions in 2014. Just recently in Saudi Arabia, blogger, Raif Badawi, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes. This is nothing out of the ordinary for Saudi Arabia, and these arbitrary sentences are not only restricted to adults; children can face these sentences if they show any signs of physical puberty. Likewise, in Florida, between 2012 and 2013, 98% of the children prosecuted were charged as adults.
Of course, the policies and laws of Saudi Arabia, and all nations alike, should be condemned and criticized by the masses, but for the United States to act as an “example” for the rest of the world is ludicrous. Human rights, specifically regarding the handling of criminals, are in all actuality, non-existent in the United States. These horrendous torture techniques and methods for interrogation are justified by claims such as “We are looking for the terrorists who did 9/11.” Although these terrible methods are not typically used on United States citizens, they are still used on human beings, who are people just like us, and condoned by officials who represent the United States in some of the highest positions. Before the United States can lend a hand to other nations and scoff at the Saudis, we must recognize that we are not as different from them as we would like to pretend–and find a permanent solution to our own humanitarian problems.
(Image via Kathleen T. Rhem/US Department of Defense).