Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Human Rights Organizations Off the Deep End

by Elliott Abrams
October 12, 2011

What does one make of organizations that wish to see George W. Bush behind bars—but have never expressed similar sentiments about Fidel Castro, Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad, or Hassan Nasrallah?

Those organizations would be Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, which just this week asked Canada to try to prosecute former president Bush “for his role in authorizing the torture of detainees.”  They issued their statements now because Mr. Bush is soon to visit Canada again. The HRW press release is entitled “Canada: Don’t Let Bush Get Away With Torture.”

The problem, you see, is the abject failure of the Obama Administration, or perhaps more broadly the problem is America: “The U.S. government’s refusal even to investigate Bush’s role in authorizing torture makes it all the more important that Canada take its obligation seriously,” said HRW’s executive director. Of course, Bush is not the only criminal: “Bush attended an unpublicized event in Canada in September, the same month former Vice President Dick Cheney also traveled to Canada. Prior to Cheney’s trip, Human Rights Watch urged the Canadian government to investigate his role in authorizing torture and the CIA secret detention program.” Like Americans, Canadians apparently require tutelage in respect for human rights from these self-appointed consciences of the democratic world.

But Amnesty and HRW are outspoken only with respect to certain officials. Bashar al-Assad visited Paris in 2008 and 2009: silence. Putin hit Brussels this year: silence. When in good health Fidel was a world traveler: silence. No calls for prosecution for the many killings such people have ordered. When it comes to enemies of the United States (recall Yasser Arafat as well) there may be an appeal to release a certain prisoner or a demand for more political rights, but there is no call to bar travel or to advance criminal charges. I am aware that heads of state have sovereign immunity, but why do these organizations not call for indictments by the International Criminal Court or at least demand that they be refused entry into decent countries altogether?

This is a sad development, for human rights violations are rampant in many countries and principled international human rights organizations are surely needed. What is not needed is the kind of “activism” that tries to bar our former president and vice president (and similarly, Israeli officials) from traveling. This is a travesty of human rights activity, and an insult to democratic countries that live under the rule of law and must defend themselves from war and terror. When “human rights organizations” become merely a part of the trendy international Left, the cause of human rights is deeply damaged.

Post a Comment 20 Comments

  • Posted by canadiansyrian

    the 23 thousands Syrians (or who are still alive ) who are in Assad`s prisons and being brutaly tortured and mutilated are demanding to be transfered to Isreali prisons after seing how healthy the Palestinian prisoner were when released.
    and they are demanding Khaled Mishaal to ask his butcher friend Assad to release them+some hundereds palestinians who are still in Damascus jail.
    If their wish is not granted to be transfered to Isreali prisons , they would like to be transfered to GITMO.
    now my comment ;
    is the canadian government is going after itself for sending Maher Arar to Syria ?

  • Posted by Elliott Abrams

    From Elliott Abrams:
    Many thanks for your marvelous comment. What you say about relative prison conditions is all too true.

  • Posted by canadiansyrian

    your very welcomed , it`s reading what you write that trigger me to come up with my comment.
    thank you .

  • Posted by one American

    Well stated,Mr. Abrams. Every time one of these groups targets the U.S. or Israel–while ignoring the Assads, Iran, Venezuela etc.–they undermine the real cause & horrendous human rights abuses.
    Both of these groups are accessories to rampant human rights abuses. Perhaps next time one of these HR Ex Dir lands in Canada, our good friends to the north can detain him/her as such, after the fact.

  • Posted by brainfan

    Perhaps if those others started unprovoked wars of aggression, they would be called out too. Ultimately though, ignoring some criminals is not an excuse to ignore them all.

  • Posted by gander

    Easy enough in this country to criticize the government and call for the figurative head of a former elected official. Those who do so are free from fear that they will be pulled from their homes in the middle of the night.
    Not so in Syria, Iran, or even in Northern Ireland during the so-called Troubles.

  • Posted by brainfan

    @gander: so what are you saying, that since we’re free to do so we shouldn’t? It’s funny how so many people are reduced to comparing us with the worst of countries to make us look good.

  • Posted by gander

    No, brain, I’m just wondering why these human rights organizations don’t go after these others with equal enthusiasm rather than just the easy targets.

  • Posted by Vincent Palmeri

    So HRW is wrong for calling for Bush’s arrest for authorizing torture not b/c Bush isn’t a war criminal but b/c they failed to call for the arrest of Castro, Putin, and others? Bush/Cheney are war criminals and should be brought to the Hague..plain and simple.

  • Posted by Stanford Marine

    These organizations seems to implicitly use the standards by which a country judges itself rather than an global, objective standard. This is the only way to account for the confusing stances taken by HRW and AI.
    @gander: I’m sure at some point human rights NGOs/IGOs figured out they raise funds more effectively by targeting popular targets of the Left.
    @brainfan: Why not stimulate debate instead of attacking those who express a legitimate opinion? These are obviously important issues – they deserve our careful deliberation as citizens.
    I’ve fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan and have a lot of concerns over the decisions and processes used by the United States. All the more reason to figure out how to minimize the chance for such destructive errors in the future.

  • Posted by dayvoe

    But isn’t it the case that Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad, and Fidel Castro are all, in one form or another, heads of state when they traveled overseas?

    And doesn’t that afford them some sort of diplomatic immunity?

    So isn’t Mr Abrams engaging in a (diplomatic immunity) apples and (war crimes) oranges comparison?

    Disappointing that someone with Mr Abrams’ obvious intelligence would try such a false argument.

  • Posted by Guy

    This is typical of apologetes for State-sanctioned atrocities and for the politicians who sanction them: don’t deny the injustices, but point at others also committing injustices and demand that they be prosecuted first. It’s like a thief who, upon getting caught, defends himself by pointing to someone else: “Hey, why are you arresting me? Go arrest him, he’s just as bad.” When what is at issue is the suspension of law that allows torture and concentration camps, the concluding appeal to “democratic countries that live under the rule of law” would be comical if it weren’t so tragic.

  • Posted by Philomena Meekins

    hi there I am from Germany and in Germany we don’t discuss matters like the one you just have written about. I am glad I found your website because now it is not a secret anymore. I will start telling the people in Germany about this!

  • Posted by kailey wengoe

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  • Posted by Otilia Bonaparte

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  • Posted by Batya Casper

    It is such a comfort to read these remarks. However, as always, we are writing for the members of the choir. All of the writers here shared these opinions before we opened this site. The question is: how do we reach across the increasingly deep schism that is dividing this country – the lefts from the rights; the Republicans from the Democrats – as though belonging to a club affords one the luxury to forfeit one’s independence of thought. Can Americans no longer engage in dialogue? What one needs, in this country, is more independent thinkers. We need dialogue. For dialogue, we need trust.

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  • Posted by Elliott Abrams

    Thanks–have asked our web people to look into this.

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