August 08, 2008

Human Rights for Whom?: Mediascout

Human Rights for Whom?

If only the left hand seemed to know what the right hand was up to, the public may have actually believed the sanctimonious speech delivered by US President George W. Bush yesterday that was meant to call out China on its human rights violations. Speaking from Bangkok yesterday, President Bush boldly criticized the way in which the Chinese government treats it human rights activists and political dissenters. “We speak out for a free press, freedom of assembly and labour rights, not to antagonize China’s leaders, but because trusting its people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential.” It seems that the president did not mention the treatment of prisoners in his speech, perhaps because on that same day his government was busy convicting Salim Hamdan in a trial that human rights groups are calling a “sham.” Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s former driver, was the first person to be charged in the war crimes tribunal in Guantanamo Bay launched by the Bush administration. It is the first US war crimes trial since the Second World War.

Hamdan, who was Bin Laden’s driver from 1995 to 2001, was convicted on five charges of aiding terrorism but acquitted on three charges of conspiring to plot the 9/11 attacks. Deputy White House spokesperson Tony Fratto has called it a “fair trial,” but the Big Seven would have us believe otherwise. Because the trial was run by a military commission rather than through regular US legal channels, Hamdan was not afforded the same rights that other US prisoners would be granted in his position. The Post reports that the trial included testimony that Hamdan was not aware would be used in court, while CTV points out that the case was tainted by coercive tactics such as sleep deprivation and solitary confinement. Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union points out that never before has

“a military tribunal been convened to punish such a low-level offender for such a low-level charge.”
It is expected that the Bush administration will push ahead with the prosecution on war crimes charges of eighty other Guantanamo detainees before Bush leaves office in January. Perhaps by then Bush will have applied his own human rights rhetoric to lessons at home.

Vivian Belik is a Winnipeg-based MediaScout writer for Maisonneuve Magazine.

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