Portuguese / Spanish / English

America's empire of torture and hypocrisy

A spokesperson for the Iranian foreign ministry on Sunday had something quite interesting to say. Seizing on the growing movement in the US that is pushing for justice for the ever-growing list of young black men killed by racist white police, a foreign ministry spokesperson criticized America's human rights record, calling on the government to "stop the practice of racism and inhumane behaviour."

Marziyeh Afkham said: "The US administration has continuously criticized other countries and made an instrumental use of human rights and adopted double-standard criteria in the last few decades, while it has ignored the domestic situation".

A quick look at Human Rights Watch reports shows Iran is hardly a beacon of human rights and justice. The country carries out the death penalty "at high rates" (according to HRW), and prisoners are said to be held on politically motivated charges.

Political opportunism or not, it has to be admitted the Iranian spokesperson had a fair point.

The US has a long record of utilising the charge of human rights abuses against governments around the world that are not subservient to its imperial interests. Such criticisms are reserved for states perceived to be out of line or too independently-minded. And very real human rights abuses of US clients or allies are played down, ignored or justified in some way.

As I mentioned in a recent column, nothing demonstrates the truth of this better than the American government's long standing support for the head-chopping Saudi regime. This theocratic government, an absolutist monarchy that brooks no dissent whatsoever, has seemingly endless line of princes lined up to take over when the current generation finally dies out.

Due to this long-standing record of support for the Saudis, American and British criticisms for the human rights records of what they considers "enemy" states simply ring hollow.

The Iranian spokesperson who made this point may have had a fair amount of chutzpah to raise the issue, but to point out US hypocrisy in this way will raise agreement amongst normal people all around the region – and in the global south in general, so often the victim of European and US imperialism.

This was underlined Wednesday, when the leftist president of Brazil Dilma Rousseff unveiled the findings of a Truth Commission investigation into the 1964-85 period of military dictatorship there. Rousseff was in tears as she spoke: no doubt it brought back terrible memories as she herself, a former Marxist rebel, was tortured under that regime.

And who trained the interrogators of that regime in torture techniques? The US and UK of course.

On Tuesday a huge US Senate report into the CIA's brutal post-9/11 network of torture dungeons was released. But the Brazilian example – only one of many – should be enough to illustrate that the Bush era of perpetual war (which has continued under the Obama administration) was no exception. It is rather the rule.

The 500-page declassified report (the full unreleased version is more than ten times longer) detailed some of the CIA's most hideous and deadly torture methods. It revealed shocking and disgraceful details, such as the fact that one suspect was left to die, half naked, of hypothermia in a cold cell. "Rectal feeding" was imposed on suspects. Prisoners were chained up and denied sleep for days on end, and made to stand broken legs for hours.

The CIA covered all this up, even at top levels of government, and deliberately fed lies to the press about it. These deceptions included the "24" -style fantasy that torture programmes had saved lives and thwarted terrorist attacks – the report is adamant that they have never done so.

Anyone who knows anything about the history of American involvement around the world will know that involvement in death squads, torture and killing on a massive scale is nothing new to the American empire. But the report is yet another reminder that the US should keep its nose out of the affairs of other counties and start to fix problems at home first, such as endemic structural racism and massive economic inequality.

Iran also responded to the disgusting details revealed in the torture report with criticism. China, so often criticised by the US on the basis of its "human rights record" had a foreign ministry spokesperson say: "China has consistently opposed torture. We believe that the US side should reflect on this, correct its ways and earnestly respect and follow the rules of related international conventions".

Wang Shang, a commentator on state news agency Xinhuawas even more damning: "The hegemony it has exercised, the inquisition by torture it has practised, and the profound racial inequalities all point to the sheer hypocrisy of the United States as a defender of human rights … The US government loves to decorate itself as a vehement watchdog of human rights on the world stage … It does not even need a discerning eye to see through that camouflage and realise that hegemony, instead of defending human rights, is the US operating code."

China too, is no human right beacon. But when states with some oppressive practices call out the hypocrisy of the world's number-one human rights abuser, there is no doubt that many people in the global south nod silently in agreement.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

ArticleAsia & AmericasInquiryUS
Show Comments
Show Comments