Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Why We Elected Obama

Robert Mugabe and George W. Bush. (Source: usatoday.com)

by Ellen Schnier
edited by Stine Eckert

It is possible that no nation is completely in compliance with the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Many nations who have subscribed to these policies make great attempts to follow through with them. They were founded to recognize all people of the world as human beings, who should be treated as such.

While Zimbabwe's President, Robert Mugabe, exaggerates the situation, he brings to light some criticisms of former President G.W. Bush. In his address, he takes no responsibility for his own human rights abuses and attempts to put Mr. Bush's failings on par with his. This is almost laughable, as he is almost solely responsible for creating chaos in Zimbabwe, driving the inflation rate up so their currency is no longer viable and people cannot afford food. Even Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu said he was devastated by the human rights violations of Mugabe's government.

His criticisms, however, are not unwarranted. He is not the first to speak about the abuses at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. Suspects held without being given a trial violates the U.S. Constitution and international codes. The interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo Bay were illegal and went beyond the bounds of U.S. standards and those of the UN Human Rights Declaration. Certainly former President G.W. Bush is at fault as Commander in Chief for allowing such atrocities to stain the image of the United States.

The same can be said for violations of rights within our borders. After 9/11 heavy security measures were placed on Americans in the name of national security such as monitoring their phone calls and records without restriction or notice. Terrified by the possibility of another attack on the United States, former President G.W. Bush put in place measures that many feel violate our freedoms.

In looking back at Mr. G.W. Bush's presidency, many will remember the egregious errors he made in entering a war prematurely and without full information, in allowing torture techniques that had been made illegal, and in holding prisoners hostage in what Mugabe calls "concentration camps." All of these were done (we have to believe) with the best interest of the United States in mind and for the protection of our citizens against a second terrorism attempt.

At what cost was this done, however? Are we better off having killed thousands of innocent citizens in Afghanistan and Iraq, having spent billions upon billions of dollars putting our economy in a tailspin, having violated the freedoms of American citizens, and having violated international codes of human rights just to prevent another attack? Most Americans would probably say no. There is no justification for such egregious violations.

This is why our new President Obama ordered Guantanamo Bay to be closed on his first day of office and has said that the military must follow the prescribed interrogation techniques. He is attempting to right some of the wrongs of the former president and restore some contempt other nations hold for U.S. hypocrisy. Healing needs to take place.

For this reason, writing about other nations' violations of human rights is made easier by the promise of change. Since Mr. Obama took office, he has taken steps to ensure the United States can pursue other nations' failings in this area without President Mugabe's counterargument.

No country is perfect, and no country will ever completely uphold the example of human rights without moments of failure. The range of violations, however, is important to note. Just because the United States does not have a completely unblemished record does not mean our violations are on par with those of Zimbabwe or other nations whose tyrannical dictators suppress the rights of all people in their countries and make violation a habit. We still have a responsibility to attempt to correct the wrongs of other nations, even if we have some problems ourselves.

It is the responsibility of American journalists to expose other nations' human rights violations, but they have an equal responsibility to expose our own. These will appear most likely in separate articles, but there should be articles about our own government's failings and make an attempt to put us on a better path.

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