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Home >> Opinion
UPDATED: 15:04, May 23, 2004
US flaunting double standard
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The United States has thrown more dirt on its own face after its soldiers' abuse of Iraqi prisoners disgusted the world.

On Wednesday, an American helicopter fired on a wedding party in a remote village near the Syrian border, killing at least 40 Iraqi civilians. The attack was launched after guests engaged in the tradition of firing guns in the air in celebration.

Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, a US military spokesman, insisted the celebrants were suspected "foreign fighters."

A deliberately delayed release of a report flaunting what the United States has done in "promoting and protecting human rights and democracy" around the world cannot help save face for the planet's self-appointed preacher of human rights.

In the document, entitled Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The US Record 2003-2004, the United States has tried to sell the world a distorted picture of America's championing of human rights.

In the report, 101 countries with "problematic human rights records" are "lucky" enough to get pointers from their US "instructors."

Richard L. Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State, said on May 17 when the report was released that his country holds itself to a higher standard, both at home and in the world.

"We must create a constructive legacy, one that promotes and protects human rights and democracy around the world," Armitage said.

A true higher standard means a role model with modesty.

But the United States has always had different gauges for itself and others.

The report says the United States provided support to Iraqi media, training journalists to fulfil the functions of information, education and oversight that characterize a professional and independent press. The United States also, according to the report, funded media outlets that reported news in a fair and unbiased fashion.

Also, the report finds fault with some countries for restricting freedom of media.

Seemingly, the contrast should have built up the United States. However, what they did to the media in Iraq showed a truer picture of the Americans' hidden agenda.

They demanded the al-Jazeera news team leave Fallujah as one of the conditions for reaching a settlement to the bloody standoff in the besieged western Baghdad town on April 9.

A correspondent for the Qatar-based station - speaking live from Fallujah - had warned that day against a "humanitarian crisis" in the town if US soldiers did not end their attack on the densely populated areas.

Known for its quality programmes, professionalism and independence, al-Jazeera is the most-watched channel in the Arab world.

On April 8, 2003, US forces launched a missile strike against the al-Jazeera office in Baghdad, killing one reporter.

The network officials charged the missile attack was deliberate, recalling that another office had been hit in November 2001 during the US-led assault on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

The point is that when the voices are not for the United States, they are supposed to be the enemy.

Still, the extent of civilian casualties in Iraq during and since the war remains a sensitive subject.

According to the British newspaper Independent, some 10,000 civilians were killed by January.

Neither the British nor US forces have any difficulty in announcing swiftly that they have killed a fairly exact number of "enemy" or "insurgents."

So far, no such figures on the Iraqi civilian casualties have come out.

General Tommy Franks of US Central Command last year said "we don't do body counts."

But they do it for their own soldiers.

The report sets a high goal in Iraq, claiming that a US-led coalition has ended the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and is supporting the establishment of a democratic, pluralist government.

With US President George W. Bush declaring on May 1, 2003 the termination of major hostilities in Iraq, democracy is still a big question mark. Basic infrastructure is in ruins, and security is a luxury.

Ken Livingstone, the London mayor, said the images of torture by US forces and the worsening security situation are not short-term aberrations - they are the outcome of flawed policy.

The core of what is happening is that without lawful international support, neither the international community nor the Iraqi population will regard US and British troops as a legitimate force.

Livingstone warned that initiating attacks in civilian areas with limited information, only to curtail or abandon them, was a policy bound to leave the militants strengthened.

The stories of abuse of Iraqi prisoners by the US forces did not come as a surprise.

In January 2002, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld publicly declared that hundreds of people detained by US at Guantanamo Bay "do not have any rights" under the Geneva Conventions.

That was patently untrue. At the very least, all those arrested in the war zone were entitled under the conventions to a formal hearing to determine whether they were prisoners of war or unlawful combatants. No such hearings were held, but then Rumsfeld made clear that US observance of the convention was now optional.

Prisoners, he said, would be treated "for the most part" in "a manner that is reasonably consistent" with the conventions - which, the secretary breezily suggested, was outdated.

But this redefinition is itself a breach of article 4 of the Geneva Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, under which people detained as suspected members of a militia or a volunteer corps must be regarded as prisoners of war.

Even if there is doubt about how such people should be classified, article 5 insists they "shall enjoy the protection of the present convention until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal." But when lawyers representing 16 of them demanded a court hearing, the US court of appeals ruled that since Guantanamo Bay is not sovereign US territory, the men have no constitutional rights.

If the US Government sticks to that logic, the captured fighters in Afghanistan are not subject to the Geneva conventions because they are not "prisoners of war" but "unlawful combatants." The same claim could be made, with rather more justice, by the Iraqis holding US soldiers who illegally invaded their country.

When five US prisoners held by Iraqis were mistreated in Iraq, the United States cried foul.

The United States should look in the mirror for the dirt on its own face before teaching others how to wash.

Source: China Daily

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