Global standards don't apply to U.S.

Monday, January 10, 2005


Written by Scott Piatkowski

double standard n A set of principles establishing different provisions for one group than another; an ethical or moral code that applies more strictly to one group than to another; see America, United States of.

One of the least admirable characteristics displayed by our American neighbours – or at least the governments that they repeatedly elect – is a tendency to expect the rest of the world to adhere to a set of standards that they themselves ignore. Weapons of mass destruction are acceptable tools in the hands of their allies, but even imaginary ones are cause for invasion if they say so. International treaties, World Court rulings and United Nations resolutions are to be enforced, unless they contradict American objectives.

When other countries come together to establish international standards on the environment, disarmament or human rights, the United States is normally the voice of the polluters, the arms manufacturers and torturers. It hasn’t even ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Kyoto Protocol or the convention banning landmines. They won’t agree to a permanent court to deal with war crimes because they fear that it could lead to their own citizens facing the wrath of international law.

Most recently, the American government’s disturbing penchant for double standards has been on display in its hypocritical approach to human rights in Cuba and electoral fraud in Ukraine. In Havana, the American mission angered the Cuban government when it politicized a Christmas light display by including a neon “75” – a reference to the number of Cuban dissidents detained during the year for allegedly accepting funding from the CIA.

According to sources far more objective than the White House – including Amnesty International, of which I am a member – Cuba’s human rights record is far from stellar. However, given the comparatively worse human rights abuses that the United States is prepared to tolerate among its own client states elsewhere in Central and South America, it seems obvious that the principal American objection to the Castro regime is its unwillingness to show the required deference to U.S. power in the region. Moreover, reading Amnesty reports on the American penal system – particularly since the passage of the Patriot Act – is an absolute horror show.

What makes the American display of crocodile tears even more appalling is the fact that the most egregious human rights happening on the island of Cuba are those being perpetrated by the Americans at their base at Guantanamo Bay. According to The New York Times, “interviews with former intelligence officers and interrogators provided new details and confirmed earlier accounts of inmates being shackled for hours and left to soil themselves while exposed to blaring music or the insistent meowing of a cat-food commercial. In addition, some may have been forcibly given enemas as punishment. While all the detainees were threatened with harsh tactics if they did not cooperate, about one in six were eventually subjected to those procedures, one former interrogator estimated. The interrogator said that when new interrogators arrived they were told they had great flexibility in extracting information from detainees because the Geneva Conventions did not apply at the base.” Last summer, the International Committee of the Red Cross complained privately to the U.S. government these tactics were “tantamount to torture”.

The American record on human rights at home and abroad is worthy of its own Christmas light display of protest. The Cubans have appropriately provided a needed counterpoint to the American’s “75” by posting a series of billboards across the street from it that show pictures of US soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison.

The situation with the fraudulent election in Ukraine provided another interesting contrast. The United States was at the forefront of those countries that disputed the reported results of the original election, and demanded a new, more closely-monitored vote. They are also believed to have provided considerable funding and tactical support for the pro-western opposition party (which doesn’t necessarily make the party itself suspect, but does render American complaints about Moscow interfering with the vote somewhat ludicrous).

Yet, by international standards, American elections are riddled with fraud and suppression of votes. Last September, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter responded to those calling on him to supervise elections in Florida by saying that the state did not meet his organization’s standards for getting involved. “The disturbing fact is that a repetition of the problems of 2000 now seems likely, even as many other nations are conducting elections that are internationally certified to be transparent, honest and fair… It is unconscionable to perpetuate fraudulent or biased electoral practices in any nation. It is especially objectionable among us Americans, who have prided ourselves on setting a global example for pure democracy.”

There have been numerous reliable reports of improprieties in the casting and counting of ballots in states including Ohio, Florida and New Mexico, but there is little prospect of getting these improprieties taken seriously, let alone having them dealt with. Even the victims of electoral fraud are reluctant to pursue the matter, for fear of being labelled sore losers. Fair elections, like human rights, appear to be too much to expect from The World’s Only SuperpowerTM.

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