Tortured Relations: Human Rights Abuses and Counterterrorism Cooperation
Political Science and Policy, 2010, 43, pp. 415-419
Posted: 22 Aug 2019
Date Written: 2010
Two big assumptions fuel current mobilization against and policy discussions about the U.S. war on terror and its implications for human rights and international cooperation. First, terrorism creates strong pressures on governments — especially democracies — to restrict human rights. Second, these restrictions are not only immoral and illegal, but also counterproductive to curbing terrorism. If these two assumptions are correct, then democracies face a vicious circle: terrorist attacks provoke a reaction that makes it harder to defeat terrorist organizations. The U.S. government adopted a wide range of actions to curtail civil liberties and political freedoms after September 11, 2001. At the time, the Bush administration explained that these actions would help protect the United States and its citizens from further attacks. The current understanding is that Bush administration policies — including the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the use of torture in interrogations at Guantanamo Bay and other secret sites, and the rendition of captured terrorist suspects to states that torture — have backfired. The consequences of these deliberate policy choices, including the deaths of multiple detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan and the massive procedural challenges to prosecuting captured terrorist suspects in the United States, have degraded America’s standing as a world leader in the protection of human rights and deterred other governments from cooperation in the war on terror. All of this, according to Amnesty International, is “destroying the human rights of ordinary people” (Amnesty International 2004) and has “made the world a more dangerous place” (BBC 2004). Motivated by both moral and practical concerns, the Obama administration is now investigating allegations of torture by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operatives and making strong promises to shut Guantanamo Bay. Although few concrete public steps have been taken, policymakers see the renovation of America’s human rights policy as a big part of the counterterrorism effort (Szewczyk 2009). Obama’s director of national intelligence, retired Admiral Dennis Blair, told Congress in January 2009 that Guantanamo “is a rallying cry for terrorist recruitment and harmful to our national security, so closing it is important for our national security” (Boston.com 2009). Matthew Waxman, a former Bush administration official, argues that “the United States has a strategic interest, a national security interest in promoting certain rule-of-law principles and in demonstrating the durability and legal consistency — . . . legitimacy of its counterterrorism policies in order to garner greater international cooperation in continuing counterterrorism operations” (Council on Foreign)Relations 2009). To more effectively fight the global war on terror, the general belief is that the United States needs to modify its behavior and once again protect human rights. Our contribution to this symposium explores the evidence for this point of view.
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