America does not practice what is preaches when it comes to human rights. Despite its noble stated goal of promoting democratic principles around the world, the United States is actually stifling them.
In the name of the war on terror, the Bush administration has made bedfellows with tyrants, according to an annual report by the group Human Rights Watch.
The report, which is based on research conducted in 75 countries, names abusers throughout the world who claim to give their people basic human rights, yet fail to walk the talk when it comes to guaranteeing civil liberties. Rather, they deny freedom of the press, imprison thousands of political dissidents, shut down political opposition parties and hold sham elections to bolster their legitimacy.
These allies of Washington include Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan.
What’s worse, it is difficult for the United States to act as an effective cheerleader for human rights when it maintains a prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, takes detainees to secret CIA detention centers, and engages in torture of terror suspects.
"The United States has rightly attracted massive international criticism for its appalling and illegal conduct in the ‘war on terrorism,’ ” says Julia Hall, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch who contributed to the report.
U.S. support of antidemocratic regimes is, unfortunately, nothing new.
In 1953, the United States and Great Britain eliminated a democratic government in Iran by staging a coup, overthrowing Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh and installing a puppet regime under the Shah.
In 1954, America staged the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, the democratically elected president of Guatemala.
In 1965, the U.S. Embassy supported Indonesia's strongman General Suharto rise to power, and encouraged him in his massacre of hundreds of thousands of people. A decade later, America gave Suharto military weapons to aid in his invasion of East Timor, which also cost hundreds of thousands of lives.
In 1966, the CIA was complicit in the overthrow of President Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana through a military coup.
In 1973, the Chilean military, with the support of the United States, staged a coup against the democratically elected President Salvador Allende.
In the 1980s, the United States supported death squad leaders in places such as El Salvador and Haiti, and sponsored the Nicaraguan Contras, providing them with assassination manuals in Spanish.
The United States can’t have it both ways.
It can’t use lofty rhetoric about spreading freedom and democracy and then engage in the cold-hearted and cold-blooded policy of supporting tyrants.
It can’t criticize the human-rights records of some nations, like Cuba, ignore the records of others, like China, and then turn around and engage in torture, disappearances and indefinite detention without trial.
As Americans, we like to think of ourselves as upholders of democracy and freedom. But our history of support for dictators does not back up that claim. And the Bush administration’s actions mock it.
Our next president has a moral obligation to end this hypocrisy.
David A. Love is a lawyer and writer based in Philadelphia. His blog is davidalove.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.