U.S. military intervention abroad isn’t necessarily incompatible with respect for human rights. Sometimes it’s the only means to stop large scale violations. While military intervention always means imposing a certain level of harm on the local population, it’s possible to argue that in some cases intervention results in a net benefit. WWII could be viewed as belonging to this category of cases. Had the U.S. intervened in the Rwandan genocide, that could also have been a net benefit even if many Rwandans had died in the process. Of course, there are strict limitations to this kind of calculus – normally, it’s not OK to kill two in order to save three. However, in catastrophic circumstances, some sacrifices are probably morally acceptable if they are necessary to save thousands or even millions. That’s even more true if those who are sacrificed are responsible for the harm that triggered the intervention. (More on so-called humanitarian intervention here).
The argument that foreign intervention is necessary in order to protect the rights of U.S. citizens at home is somewhat harder to make. That was the rationale for the invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq, but those probably did not help to reduce the terror threat at home. Perhaps the contrary was the case. And if you count the harm done to the invaded populations – as you should – then the net result is clearly negative, even if the invasions did succeed in reducing the terror threat in the U.S.
Furthermore, very few if any of all the military interventions ever carried out by the U.S. – either before or during the War on Terror - were meant to protect anyone’s human rights – neither those of Americans, not those of the people in the invaded countries. The central concerns were about spheres of interest, balance of power, economic profit etc., and the usual outcome was a human rights disaster.
Those interventions were numerous, especially if you add the quasi-military ones, namely those that involved support for local guerillas, assassinations etc. Many interventions had long-lasting effects: military bases were established, autocrats received military training and long-term financial support and so on. In fact, there have been so many interventions that they can’t all fit on a single map, unless you want to have something awful like this. Here’s a better map showing some of the American interventions in one part of the world:
(source, click image to enlarge)
Here’s a map from an earlier period in history, just to show that this is nothing new:
(source, click image to enlarge)
The number of troops or military bases abroad is another way to represent the extent of U.S. intervention in the world:
(source, the sharp increase in the late 60s is of course due to the Vietnam war, the sharp decline in the early 90s follows the fall of the Iron Curtain)
(source, click image to enlarge)
Here’s a map of US military bases in the Middle East:
- Human Rights Maps (158): Women with Unmet Need for Family Planning (filipspagnoli.wordpress.com)
- Human Rights Maps (153): Female Life Expectancy in the U.S. (filipspagnoli.wordpress.com)
A casual text message to work colleagues encouraging them to ”blow away” the competition at a trade show allegedly plunged a Muslim man into a terrorism probe.
Telecommunications sales manager Saad Allami says the innocent message, aimed at pumping up his staff, has had devastating consequences on his life.
The Quebec man says he was arrested by provincial police while picking up his seven-year-old son at school. A team of police officers stormed into his home, telling his wife she was married to a terrorist. And his work colleagues were detained for hours at the U.S. border because of their connection to him.
Those are the allegations Allami makes in a lawsuit filed last month.
The Moroccan native is seeking $100,000 from the Quebec provincial police force, one of its sergeants, and the provincial government. The six-figure sum is being sought for unlawful detention, unlawful arrest, loss of income and damage to his reputation. (source)
A fine infographic from the ACLU:
The oldest prisoner is 98 years old? Come on people. Nobody can claim with a straight face that this person is a serious threat. I’m sure he can be handled by those manly security guards in a normal US prison where he would find himself serving a sentence imposed on him after a regular trial.
More in this series here.
And I don’t mean that in the obvious sense: terrorism is a human rights violation and therefore reduces respect for human rights. I’m more interested in the indirect effects of terrorism on human rights. According to this study, terrorist attacks substantially diminish governments’ respect for human rights. Extrajudicial killings, political imprisonment, torture, attacks on privacy etc. are much more common in countries that have witnessed terrorist attacks. One commonly cited reason for this is the perceived necessity of balancing human rights and security. However, it’s not clear whether restrictions on human rights do indeed work to deter or fight terrorism – perhaps such restrictions just make terrorism more likely in the long run (oppression creates resentment). It’s also unclear whether terrorism is the real reason for the restrictions or merely a pretext.
If terrorists are indeed motivated by their hatred of “our freedom“, then they are extremely successful because they have forced democratic countries to destroy a substantial part of their own freedom. Examples are here, here, here and here.
And whether or not restrictions of freedom do effectively improve security in the short and in the long run, governments can’t claim that what they do is what the public wants:
On this 10th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, here is a repost of a mock OpEd I wrote some years ago. It’s mocking only in its form, not in its intentions. Warning: none of the opinions expressed here should be mistaken for my own.
“The date is October the 1st, 2011, exactly 20 days after the worst terrorist attack in US history, an attack in which Muslim extremists used nuclear bombs to inflict heavy damage on 3 American cities, embarrassing the security forces who were on high alert on the 10th anniversary of 9-11.
Today, the whole world was listening to President Obama’s first policy speech after the events. The most shocking announcement was undoubtedly the decision to no longer deploy US troops abroad. The President defended this “Coming Home” decision by citing the failure of 10 years of military actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, the Middle East, Nigeria and Indonesia intended to bring about more security for the American people. Evidence has shown that US involvement abroad, even peaceful and objectively beneficial involvement, rather than promoting US security, actually fosters hate, resentment and fanaticism. The objects of American involvement, even if this involvement means billions of dollars of aid, seem to think that it is fundamentally a ploy to “imperialize” them, a crusade to take away their identity, religion and wealth. Independence, national pride and Allah is what counts for them.
It has also become clear that the US was wrong to think in terms of “frontlines” in its war with Muslim terrorists. The strategy to try to attack the enemy in their homelands, the “first frontline”, rather than wait until they get on American soil, has proven to be ineffective militarily, and possibly even counter-effective psychologically: it has provided fuel for anti-crusader and anti-colonialist rhetoric, convincing ever more young Muslim martyrs and extremist Muslim regimes of the anti-Muslim and hence satanic nature of the Christian unbelievers.
Unlike an enemy army in a classical 20th century war, this enemy cannot be defeated by an overpowering military attack. The strongest military in the world cannot defeat a relatively small group of undoubting and unthinking amateurs ready to die with a makeshift bomb in their hands. With every amateur it kills it only produces more evidence of the presence of Satan on holy soil. Hence, the more it tries to root out the enemy, the more enemies it creates. The President therefore, wisely in our view, decided to shift focus from the attack to the defensive. Bringing our boys back home to defend the American border, effectively turning the army into a super coastguard and border patrol, should not be viewed as giving in to the enemy, a retreat or a Last Stand. That would only be a return to an inadequate and outdated military logic, useless given the kind of enemy we are dealing with.
Together with measures to prevent homegrown terrorism – which, fortunately, has been a limited phenomenon until now – a relentless border control should indeed be able to offer protection. The borders must, of course, include the entrances of airplanes and ships heading for the US. In order to be independent from foreign security services, the President has asked for legislation allowing only US aircraft and ship to enter the US. If economically necessary, the US will acquire a larger fleet. Anyway, unnecessary travel to the US will be discouraged.
The economic drawbacks of rigorous border controls will be countered by technological innovations funded by army budgets which become available when budgets for overseas operations start to diminish. The President also asked the citizens to prepare for the possibility of a certain number of years of economic depression. Energy supplies may also suffer as a consequence of the US drawback. Traditional allies will be disappointed by their abandonment. The loss of US military assistance will even endanger the existence of some regimes. Those which are also oil suppliers will resent the US and will disrupt the supply. The President is conscious of the economic impact this will have but asks the scientific community to tackle the problem of oil dependence. Existing alternatives, including nuclear energy, will be developed. Repatriated nuclear warheads, if not necessary for domestic security, will be recycled in the energy industry.
Some allies which are important for the US domestically, such as Israel, will not be abandoned without continued support. Military equipment not necessary for border control and security on US soil, will be handed over to them after they lose the protective umbrella of a US presence in their region. Financial assistance will continue to be possible.
Because US troops will no longer be stationed abroad, US expats can become easy targets for terrorists. The President therefore advises them to make plans to return home as soon as possible. The government will establish funds to incite people to come home and to compensate for damages they will incur. US multinationals will be legally forced to employ local people only in their foreign affiliates. The US government will immediately cease to employ its citizens in development projects in Africa and elsewhere. To alleviate the economic shock this will produce in developing countries, the US will double its funds for development aid for a period of 5 years. These funds, however, will be spend entirely by third parties. No US agencies will be active abroad. The US will also withdraw from NATO, the UN, and all other international institutions.
May God be with us, since it’s excessively clear that nobody else will.”
It’s obviously an exaggeration. And there’s nothing wrong with that in this case because it’s clear that the map doesn’t intend to convey statistically accurate information, although it is based on it (see here). The exaggeration is a deliberate tool in the dramatization of the wars, and that’s OK because war is tragic. However, exaggeration often occurs in statistics – meaning in forms of communication meant to convey accurate information. And then it’s a problem. There’s an example here.
Statistics in map form are particularly vulnerable to this: putting events on a map quickly overloads the map and gives the impression that a phenomenon is much more common than it really is. Take for instance the map below, which makes it look like the U.S. and especially the east of the U.S. is inundated by hate crime groups:
This can give an altogether misleading message.
- “Wikileaks Iraq War Logs on Google Maps” and related posts (googlemapsmania.blogspot.com)
- U.S. military says 77,000 Iraqis killed over 5 years (ctv.ca)
- Pixelating the Casualties in Iraq (infosthetics.com)
I can simplify this question a bit and focus on those rights violations that are caused by government action. Moreover, I’ll focus on governments in developed countries and say that those are generally democracies dominated either by left-wing or right-wing political movements, alternating. Now, if I want to judge whether it’s the left or the right that is most harmful to human rights, I need to define left and right. And that’s tricky. But let’s simplify some more and say that
- the right is generally conservative, concerned about respect for religion and religious rules/morality, in favor of capitalism and free markets, against taxation and government intervention in markets, not very interested in equality or equal rights in some areas (as a consequence of religious morality for instance), suspicious of immigration, in favor of a strong national defense, and focused on law and order;
- the left is worried about capitalism and free markets, in favor of government regulation and intervention in markets, suspicious of free trade, willing to tax and redistribute, and politically correct.
I know, highly simplistic, but I’ll try to make it useful. So bear with me. If we focus on present-day developed nations, which of these two political ideologies is most likely to lead to government policies and legislation that cause human rights violations?
If you look at national defense, you could claim that right-wing governments are most harmful. Although the left is often very supportive of the war on terror, especially in the US (but less elsewhere), it’s the right that is most enthusiastic and most eager to adopt extreme measures. In the name of this war, the US tortured, invaded, murdered civilians, eavesdropped, rendered, and arbitrarily arrested. After every new terror-scare, right-wing spokespeople are quick to demand more rights sacrifices (Miranda rights should be suspended, citizenship revoked etc.). On the other hand, it was a left-wing government in Britain that eagerly supported this war, and Obama seems to be continuing the work of Bush.
If we look at markets, the left is clearly more skeptical about it’s benefits. However, economists – also left leaning economists – generally agree that free trade is good and that many interventions in markets, such as trade restrictions, quotas, subsidies etc. aggravate poverty. And poverty is a human rights violation. Of course, right-wing governments also impose or maintain such restrictions, but arguably left-wing governments are more prone to such vices since they often depend on support of labor unions and other protectionist forces.
On the other hand, the trust in markets expressed by the right can result in a kind of blindness: the right often doesn’t notice market failures and the harm that a slap of the invisible hand can do. As a result, the poor are blamed for their poverty, which is why government assistance in the struggle against poverty is deemed unnecessary, unhelpful and even damaging. The right’s focus on private philanthropy is good but it’s naive to think that philanthropy alone will solve the problem of poverty.
Taxation is a difficult one. Very high levels of taxation are obviously economically inefficient and may lower living standards rather than equalize them. On the other hand, very low rates make it impossible to fund the welfare state, with the same result. Both right wing and left wing fiscal policy can be harmful from a human rights point of view. And there’s a problem of actions vs words here: it’s not obvious that right-wing governments impose low tax rates and left-wing governments high tax rates, despite the respective rhetoric.
If we accept that the right is more enamored of religion, then it’s clear where we should lay the blame for a host of rights violations, such as attempts to undo the separation of state and church, discrimination based on religion or sexual orientation and invasions of privacy. Take the example of gay marriage. A focus on religion can also lead to a lack of respect for the sexual privacy of consenting adults, not just homosexuals, but also adulterers, people consuming obscene or pornographic material, or engaging in sodomy. Laws against homosexuality, adultery, sodomy and obscenity usually come from the right. Moreover, the right can show a lack of respect for religious minorities, a result of the incompatibility of different religious claims (“there is only one God”). Opposition to Muslim headscarves for instance is often more prevalent among the right (although there’s also anti-Muslim sentiment in some parts of the feminist or atheist left).
Moving on to another topic. The right’s focus on law and order has led to high incarceration rates, especially in the U.S. These rates have also been inflated by a misguided war on drugs, apparently inspired by a puritan religious morality. Capital punishment is also more popular on the right.
Regarding the left, we can mention some of the harmful consequences of political correctness. PC can lead to exaggerated limits on free speech. Hate speech, for example, is in certain cases a justifiable reason for speech limits, but it seems like some of the limits go too far. An innocent use of a particular word can get you fired, for instance.
Of course, I did simplify. The left-right dichotomy as I have defined it here doesn’t accurately reflect all nuances of political ideology. Some on the left are more pro-free-market than some on the right. Moreover, the dichotomy doesn’t capture all ideologies (libertarianism in a sense is neither left nor right). Also, many governments are left-right coalitions. And, finally, many human rights violations are not caused by governments but by fellow citizens. And when they are caused by governments, they may not be caused by those parts of government that are made up of elected politicians of the left or the right. Bureaucracies or judges can also violate rights. Some violations are not based on left or right leaning ideologies, but on other things such as an extreme desire to regulate etc.
Still, I think that the overview given above is useful. It’s not useful in the sense that it allows us to quantify or compute the respective levels of (dis)respect and to conclude that either the right or the left is better for human rights. It doesn’t. In that sense the question in the title of this post is meaningless. However, the overview above highlights the fact that everyone can violate human rights and that human rights activists should be careful when affiliating themselves with a particular ideology. Neutrality, objectivity, fairness and a lack of double standards are crucial in the struggle for human rights.
In one sense this is a bit out of date, and yet in another it’s still relevant. The war on terror is a war of terror: terrorists have succeeded in terrorizing large portions of western populations and their governments, and in provoking them to “show their real faces”. The “imperialists” are still waging war in other countries, detaining people without a trial, torturing them etc. And as long as they do so, the terrorists have what they want.
Here are a few maps depicting the events of 9-11-2001. The first one shows the flight paths of the hijacked planes:
This next one shows the impact location in the two towers of the WTC, as well as the trajectory of some of the debris of the planes (the north tower, WTC 1 was hit first, 20 minutes before the second plane hit WTC 2):
(source, click image to enlarge)
This map shows which buildings were damaged or destroyed:
The following infographic explains why the buildings collapsed:
(source, click image to enlarge)
And this map shows the locations of human remains found on or around ground zero (never mind the indication of the “mosque“; some people believe that this is somehow relevant):
On July 7th 2005, during the morning rush hour, a group of Muslim young men carried out a series of coordinated suicide attacks on 3 of London’s subway lines and on one double-decker bus. At 08:50, three bombs exploded within fifty seconds of each other on three London Underground trains (the three red circles in the map below), a fourth exploding an hour later at 09:47 on a double-decker bus in Tavistock Square (the red and black circle).
Here’s some more detail about the specific events and the chronology (click image to enlarge):
The map below gives some detail about the second attack, close to Russell Square:
The map below shows the last attack on the bus:
Read the full story here.
Two weeks later, on July 21st 2005, London witnessed four attempted bomb attacks, this time without much damage because the bombs failed to explode. While the manhunt for the perpetrators was in progress, on July 22nd, the police shot and killed a Brazilian man, Jean Charles de Menezes, at Stockwell tube station shortly after 10:00. Officers had pursued de Menezes from a location under surveillance, believing him to be one of the men wanted for the attempted attacks of the previous day. They apparently believed de Menezes was about to carry out a new attack. Afterwards, the police admitted that de Menezes was not involved in any of the bombings or attempted bombings. Read the whole story here and here. Here’s a map depicting the tragic event:
(source, click image to enlarge)
The right to privacy has become increasingly important and contested. Here are just a few examples of areas in which violations of privacy have become more common over the last decades:
- Public safety: many governments claim that the war on terror requires the following limitations of the right to privacy (just as it requires limitations of other rights):
- Transportation and road safety:
- Criminal justice:
- Commerce: sales tracking using fidelity cards or credit cards
Since it’s always good to cite the Universal Declaration when talking about human rights, here’s the article about privacy (#12):
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
Types of privacy
Privacy is what is called a cluster concept: it covers many different things, things which may seem unrelated at first sight. So, before I go on, here’s a short and tentative typology of different kinds of “privacies” (I’ll mention later what they have in common):
- Domestic privacy. People have a right to remain secluded and alone in their homes, to keep what happens in their homes and houses to themselves, and to repel intrusion. That’s mostly what is protected by the Fourth Amendment in the US. Issues related to obscenity or pornography laws for example also fall under this type of privacy.
- Personal privacy. People have a right to keep their thoughts, opinions, or feelings to themselves. The secrecy of postal communication for example falls under this type, as does the secret ballot.
- Physical (or intimate) privacy. People have a right not to expose their bodies, as well as a right to repel physical intrusion into their bodies. Abortion and some security checks belong here.
- Informational privacy. People have a right to control what happens to information about themselves (or their families), and to limit involuntary distribution or disclosure of such information. Information here means facts, whether embarrassing or not, rather than opinions. The latter are part of libel law. Information about sexual orientation or salaries is an example of informational privacy.
- Relational privacy. People have a right to keep some of the details about their relationships to themselves. This includes whom they have what type of sexual intercourse with. Sodomy laws violate this kind of privacy, as do laws regulating the use of contraceptives. People also have a right to decide without interference on the type of relationship that suites them best. This covers laws regulating interracial marriages, same-sex marriages etc.
(There’s also the concept of private property, but I think this can be separated from privacy issues, although private property of a home is obviously a necessary condition for domestic privacy, for example).
All these types of privacy have something in common: they are all about independence. Privacy protects an individual’s interest in making independent decisions about her life, family, home, lifestyle, relationships, behavior and communication. All these types of privacy are also about the restriction of access or intrusion. Privacy gives an individual the right to deny access or intrusion by others, more specifically access to or intrusion in her body, her home, her relationships, her mind and certain facts about her life. It’s a right to be let alone.
Justification of privacy
Privacy is justified because it restricts access. Some restrictions of access are necessary for personal identity. There is no “I”, no person, no individual without a border between me and the rest of the world. Such a border is an absolute requirement for the basic human need of personhood and individuality. If people have unlimited access to each other, then there simply won’t be any separate people left. People understood as separate entities require some level of privacy protection. The exact level of privacy and the justified intrusions into people’s private lives are not yet determined by this argument, but the need for some level of privacy and some limitations of intrusions is clear. Other justifications of privacy could be based on the interest people have in intimacy, close personal relationships etc. It’s clear that a world without privacy or even without strong privacy rights would be a horrible world indeed.
Objections to privacy
Some argue that there’s nothing special about privacy and that the concept doesn’t merit an independent existence, let alone legal protection. The many different interests protected by privacy can indeed be protected by other means, such as a right to private property, liberty, bodily security and integrity, or independence.
However, I’m not sure that this is true for all the interests protected by a right to privacy. And an independent notion of privacy gives at least an added protection, partly because of the strong roots of the notion in common language and belief.
Some go even a step further and consider privacy to be detrimental rather than merely superfluous. Marx, for example, viewed privacy as a symptom of an atomized and selfish society, intent on protecting the material self-interest of the haves faced with a possible revolt of the have-nots.
Some feminists as well have forcefully argued that privacy is detrimental to women because of its use as a shield to protect male domination, superiority and abuse. However, it’s not because a right can be abused that it loses all meaning. There wouldn’t be any rights left if that were the case. The challenge is to avoid intrusion in people’s private lives that go too far, while at the same time allowing intrusion that counters abusive private actions. The right to privacy is therefore not an absolute right. But it is a right, and feminists should remember that intrusions into the private sphere can also be detrimental to women (e.g. abortion legislation, forced sterilization etc.).
- The Fourth Amendment: It Has Got to be About More than Privacy (reason.com)
- Q&A: How Do You Define ‘Privacy Harm’? (blogs.wsj.com)
Osama bin Laden is seen at an undisclosed location in this television image broadcast October 7, 2001. Bin Laden praised God for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and swore America “will never dream of security” until “the infidel’s armies leave the land of Muhammad.”
A Florida professor was arrested and removed from a plane Monday after his fellow passengers alerted crew members they thought he had a suspicious package in the overhead compartment. That “suspicious package” turned out to be keys, a bagel with cream cheese and a hat.
Ognjen Milatovic, 35, was flying from Boston to Washington D.C. on US Airways when he was escorted off the plane for disorderly conduct following the incident.
Monday’s incident is another example of other passengers essentially becoming the authority on terrorist activity on planes.
Recently, passenger complaints have resulted authorities taking action against innocent passengers who went to the bathroom too often on a flight and who were just being annoying.
In the hyper-sensitive world of flying, sneezing too often could get you kicked off a flight and questioned by the FBI.
Milatovic, who is a mathematics and statistics professor at the University of North Florida, was minding his business when other passengers turned into super sleuths.
Passengers reported hearing strange noises coming from a plastic bag. State police said later that the bag contained a set of keys, a bagel with cream cheese, some other small food items, a hat and a wallet.
When confronted by the US Airways crew about his “suspicious package,” Milatovic got on his cell phone. The crew asked him to hang it up and sit down. When he refused, he was cuffed. Milatovic was also charged with interfering with the operation of an aircraft. (source, image source)
- I want to stop flying (professorbainbridge.com)
- The Most Absurd Human Rights Violations (67): Shot in the Butt Over Saggy Pants (filipspagnoli.wordpress.com)
- The Most Absurd Human Rights Violations (68): Advocacy Equals Insanity (filipspagnoli.wordpress.com)
- The Most Absurd Human Rights Violations (69): Arrested for a Tweet (filipspagnoli.wordpress.com)
- Jon Naar on Photographing The Early New York City Graffiti Scene (laughingsquid.com)
Mostly good news, which doesn’t mean that the U.S. invasion was justifiable or successful. For example, the casualties resulting from the conflict are absent from this overview.
More on Afghanistan here.
- Human rights group knocks ‘abusive’ Taliban officials (cnn.com)
- Taliban Stone Couple for Adultery in Afghanistan (foxnews.com)
I knew I could use this when I saw it:
This is part of an innovative approach to road safety in West Vancouver, Canada. The local government has decided to paint an optical illusion of a girl playing on the road in order to slow down traffic.
It’s a well-intentioned policy that’s likely to go horribly wrong: initially, there’s a risk that the painting will make drivers brake and swerve and cause an accident, and later on drivers will perhaps mistake real children for the painted ones and just drive one.
Similar counterproductive efforts are quite common in the area of human rights. The most obvious one is the war on terror: while trying to protect the lives, physical safety and bodily integrity of their citizens, western governments have launched themselves into a war on terror and two territorial wars on/in other countries. Those wars not only produce massive violations of the rights of citizens of those two countries, but also of the rights of the citizens of the western countries that initiated the wars. Moreover, these wars tend to produce terrorists rather than eliminate them (see also here).
More self-defeating human rights policies are here.
The current US Administration, like the previous one although somewhat less enthusiastically, believes that the War on Terror necessitates certain restrictions on human rights. The Bush Administration, in order to respond effectively to what it considered to be the existential threat of Islamic terrorism, claimed that it should be able to torture terror suspects and start preemptive wars. The Obama administration continues the Bush policies of
- targeted killings with drone attacks (akin to extrajudicial executions in certain cases, and a risk to the lives of innocent bystanders)
- suspensions of freedom of information rights
- abuse of arrest powers, suspension of habeas corpus rights, detention without trial and even secret detention
- invasions of the privacy of travelers and others (including wiretapping).
While the U.S. has generally refused to disclose the locations of these facilities, the specifics have slowly leaked out. There’s evidence confirming CIA “black sites” in 20 locations around the world where “high value detainees” have been “rendered” and probably subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques“. There’s a map on the “rendition flows” here.
- UN Report Documents Secret Detention Practices by U.S., Other Countries (seminal.firedoglake.com)
- Exposed: CIA’s ‘game’ to hide terror detainees (msnbc.msn.com)
- New Evidence About Prisoners Held in Secret C.I.A. Prisons in Poland and Romania (littlealexinwonderland.wordpress.com)
- The secret detainee transfer (philly.com)
- AP Exclusive: CIA whisked detainees from Gitmo (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
The question here is whether targeted killings are a form of extrajudicial execution or a legitimate act of war. And this question gets more complicated – or easier depending on your view – when these killings take place far away from the battlefield, when the targets aren’t necessarily combatants or a direct military threat, or when – as is the case – the targets are secret and sometimes even citizens of the country doing the killing. So there’s also the issue of a lack of transparency, feeding rumors that the U.S. is going about killing people without due process and without anyone ever knowing about it. More on targeted killings here. More human rights videos here.
This video makes the case that there is a strong link between poverty and terrorism, but I think the link isn’t all that strong (see here and here). A much stronger argument made in the video is the effect of the war on terror. This war seems to communicate the message that the West doesn’t care about civilian victims, so why should terrorists care? The video also focuses on the religious causes of terrorist violence. Religion does play a role, of course, but we shouldn’t forget that many suicide attacks took place in Sri Lanka for example, and those weren’t religiously motivated.
9/11 and other terrorist attacks apparently motivated by Islamic beliefs has led to an increased hostility towards Islam, but also towards religion in general. Perhaps in an effort to avoid the charge of islamophobia, many anti-jihadists have taken a new look at the violent history of other religions, particularly Christianity, and concluded that religion per se, because of the concomitant belief in the absolute truth of God’s words and rules, automatically leads to the violent imposition of this belief on unwilling fellow human beings, or – if that doesn’t work – the murderous elimination of persistent sinners. This has given rise to a movement called the new atheists. The charge of fanatical and violent absolutism inherent in religion is of course an old one, but it has been revitalized after 9/11 and the war on terror. I think it’s no coincidence that many of the new atheists are also anti-jihadists (take Christopher Hitchens for example).
There are many things wrong with question in the title of this blogpost. (And – full disclosure – this isn’t part of a self-interested defense of religion, since I’m an agnostic). First of all, it glosses over the fact that there isn’t such a thing as “religion”. There are many religions, and perhaps it can be shown that some of them produce a disproportionate level of violence, but religion as such is a notoriously vague concept. Nobody seems to agree on what it is. Even the God-entity isn’t a required element of the definition of religion, except if you want to take the improbable position that Buddhism isn’t a religion. All sorts of things can reasonably be put in the container concept of “religion” – the Abrahamic religions as well as Wicca and Jediism. The claim that “religion is violent” implies that all or most religions are equally violent, which is demonstrably false.
That leaves the theoretical possibility that some religions are more violent than others. If that claim can be shown to be true, islamophobia may perhaps be a justified opinion, but not the outright rejection of religion inherent in new atheism (which, of course, has other arguments against religion besides religion’s supposed violent character). However, how can it be shown empirically and statistically that a certain religion – say Islam – is relatively more violent than other religions? In order to do so you would need to have data showing that Islam today (or, for that matter, Christianity in the age of the crusades and the inquisition) is the prime or sole motive behind a series of violent attacks. But how do you know that the violent actor was motivated solely or primarily by his religious beliefs? Because he has a Muslim name? Speaks Arabic? Looks a certain way? Professes his religious motivation? All that is not enough to claim that he wasn’t motivated by a combination of religious beliefs and political or economic grievances for instance, or by something completely unconnected to religion, despite his statements to the contrary.
Now let’s assume, arguendo, that this isn’t a problem, and that it is relatively easy and feasible to identify a series of violent attacks that are indisputably motivated solely or primarily by certain religious beliefs. How can you go from such a series to a quantified comparison that says “the religion behind this series of attacks – say again Islam – is particularly violent”? That seems to be an unwarranted generalization based on a sample that is by definition very small (given the long history of most religions and the lack of data on motivations, especially for times that have long since passed). Also, it supposes a comparison with other causes of violence, for example other religions, other non-religious belief systems, character traits, economic circumstances etc. After all, the point of this hypothetical study is not to show that (a) religion can lead to bad things. That’s seldom disputed. Everything can lead to bad things, including fanatical atheism (and don’t tell me communism and fascism were “really” religions; the word “religion” is vague, but probably not as vague as that – which doesn’t mean that there aren’t any religious elements in those two world-views). The claim we’re discussing here is that (a) religion – because of its fanatical absolutism and trust in God’s truth – is particularly violent, i.e. more violent than other belief systems, and hence very dangerous and to be repudiated.
I think it’s useless, from a purely mathematical and scientific point of view, to engage in such a comparative quantification, given the obvious problems of identifying true motivations, especially for long periods of time in the past. There’s just no way that you can measure religious violence, compare it to “other violence”, and claim it is more (or less) violent. So the question in the title is a nonsensical one, I think, even if you limit it to one particular religion rather than to religion in general. That doesn’t mean it can’t be helpful to know the religious motives of certain particular acts of violence. It’s always good to know the motives of violence if you want to do something about it. What it means is that such knowledge is no reason to generalize on the violent nature of a religion, let alone religion as such. That would not only obscure other motives – which is never helpful – but it would also defy our powers of quantification.
I really hope this isn’t true:
Female homicide bombers are being fitted with exploding breast implants which are almost impossible to detect, British spies have reportedly discovered.
The shocking new Al Qaeda tactic involves radical doctors inserting the explosives in women’s breasts during plastic surgery – making them “virtually impossible to detect by the usual airport scanning machines.”
It is believed the doctors have been trained at some of Britain’s leading teaching hospitals before returning to their own countries to perform the surgical procedures.
MI5 has also discovered that extremists are inserting the explosives into the buttocks of some male bombers.
“Women suicide bombers recruited by Al Qaeda are known to have had the explosives inserted in their breasts under techniques similar to breast enhancing surgery,” Terrorist expert Joseph Farah claims. (source)
Under fire, every soldier needs someone to talk to, someone to count on, a powerful protector who watches from above. That protector exists. He watches you from the heavens. He is there but not there. He hears your prayers and answers them. He sees your enemies and keeps you safe from them. If necessary, he rains fire and death on them. … He is a drone pilot.
These pilots live and work in the United States. Through the eyes and arms of their drones, they patrol the skies over Iraq and Afghanistan. They hear soldiers in need and come to their aid. In Pakistan, drones have become fearsome hunters, tracking down and killing commanders of al-Qaida and the Taliban. But they can also be guardians. More than 95% of their missions involve gathering intelligence or watching over troops.
By insulating pilots from danger, drones help us hunt and kill the enemy. But they also give us more time to distinguish the innocent. From a drone, unlike a plane, you can hover for hours and zoom in for a closer inspection using just your cameras. … Along with the godlike power to destroy, drones have given us godlike powers to protect the vulnerable and spare the innocent. William Saletan (source)
The targeted killing of terrorists, either by special forces or by unmanned drone aircraft (aptly named “Predators” or “Reapers“), raises a number of moral questions. Let’s focus here on the drone attacks (and also exclude the cases where there’s an imminent attack, because those can be considered morally easy cases of self-defense). There’s an interesting documentary here. If you can’t watch it in your country, here’s a quote describing it:
A guy gets in his car and drives to work in an office in Nevada. From his office he controls drones in Afghanistan. Occasionally he kills people (who can’t shoot back at him, since he’s 8000 miles away). When he’s done, he gets in his car and drives home to his wife and kids. You can tell the difference between ordinary farmers and insurgents by the way they move across terrain, apparently. (source)
I can think of a few moral dilemmas coming out of this, and I would like to see how you vote on these. So here they are.
1. I know that one of the advantages of drones is supposed to be their effectiveness: compared to normal, long distance bombing (such as the shock-and-awe attacks on Baghdad from the Persian Gulf), drone attacks are said to be a lot less indiscriminate. After all, that’s why they are called targeted “killings”. However, to the extent we can judge – there’s no public database of drone attacks – it’s not uncommon to hear about drones mistakenly targeting weddings instead of evil terrorist meetings, or killing bystanders together with the terrorists. It seems that the main reason for using drones is that you don’t endanger your own flying crews, and certainly not your ground troops. After all, once you have identified a target, a drone isn’t more precise than a normal bomber plane. So, if that’s the motive, we can ask if the prioritization of the minimization of risk to soldiers on your own side over the minimization of risk to civilians on the enemy side, is morally acceptable in war.
2. To broaden the point somewhat: is it generally fair or rather cowardly to shoot people who can’t shoot back, or to harm people from such a distance that they can’t harm you back, or is it morally praiseworthy to shoot people while minimizing the risk on your side?
3. Is killing people by way of drone attacks an admissible act of war or a war crime, assuming that the people killed are actually combatants or terrorists (and assuming that terrorists can be treated like enemy combatants in a normal war) rather than innocent civilians, and that the technology is therefore effective?
4. If Al Qaida kills the operators mentioned in the quote, is it an admissible act of war or terrorism?
5. If you have checked the first answer in question #3, do you believe it’s logical to check the first answer in question #4 a well? If not, why not? Add your reasons in the “other” box.
6. The same question as #4, but slightly modified, and assuming you checked the first answer in question #3. If Al Qaida detonates a bomb that wipes out an entire neighborhood, including the operators mentioned in the quote, can they claim their actions are equivalent to targeted killing by the U.S., given the fact that targeted killing isn’t always very precise either? Or are they wrong and are they in this case not engaging in admissible acts of war but in terrorism?
7. Again, a small modification of question #4, and assuming you checked the first answer in question #3: if Al Qaida detonates a bomb that wipes out an entire neighborhood, believing the operators mentioned in the quote were present, but they actually weren’t present, can they claim their actions are equivalent to targeted killing given the fact that drone attacks are known to have targeted places where terrorists were supposed to be but actually weren’t? Or are they wrong and are they not engaging in admissible acts of war but in terrorism?
I don’t think I need to spell out the ways in which terrorism is a human rights issue (beyond the obvious violations of the human rights of the direct victims of terrorism there are serious human rights implications of the so-called ”war on terror“).
Some time ago, I linked to a paper claiming that poverty and lack of education do not, contrary to common belief, contribute to terrorism. If this claim is correct, then it has major implications for counter-terrorism efforts. There’s another paper here making a similar claim, looking at the correlation between violent insurgencies and levels of unemployment, specifically in Iraq and the Philippines. One often assumes that unemployment and the economic and social alienation resulting from it, are elements causing or facilitating political violence, and that efforts to promote employment can have a beneficial effect on social cohesion and political loyalty. The unemployed are believed to have the mindset (frustration etc.), the time and the opportunity to radicalize and be radicalized, whereas people who are employed have a lot to lose, economically, from political instability. Positively stated,
insurgency is a low-skill occupation so that creating jobs for the marginal unemployed reduces the pool of potential recruits.
However, the authors find
a robust negative correlation between unemployment and attacks against government and allied forces and no significant relationship between unemployment and the rate of insurgent attacks that kill civilians. … The negative correlation of unemployment with violence indicates that aid and development efforts that seek to enhance political stability through short-term job creation programs may well be misguided.
Some of the reasons given in the paper in order to explain this negative correlation are:
- Counter-insurgency forces usually spend money to buy intelligence from the general population. More unemployment means that the available money can buy more intelligence, hence bring levels of violence down.
- Insurgents also need to live. If there’s a lot of unemployment, they need to spend more time on basic survival and hence can spend less time on violence.
- Efforts to enhance security—establishing checkpoints and the like—damage the economy.
The paper deals only with two countries, neither of which is perhaps a very typical case. Moreover, cross-border terrorism doesn’t seem to fit well into the analysis. But still, the findings are interesting.
In just war theory, the concept of “last resort” means that force, violence and other violations of human rights are allowed only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted or are clearly not practical, and when force etc. is clearly the only option. In the current “war on terror“, the use or torture is often justified as a last resort, as the only option available, in certain circumstances such as the “ticking bomb“, to avoid an outcome that is worse than the use of the last resort.
There are many possible and convincing arguments against the use of torture, but one which isn’t mentioned a lot is the fact that justifications for torture emanate from a philosophy that sees risk as something to be completely overcome. Torture is justified as an extreme measure to overcome a last remaining and very small risk. That is evident from the ticking bomb case: the case itself is by definition rare, so the risk that it occurs is very small. Even smaller is the risk that we have to resort to the use of torture as a means to avoid the risk of the bomb going off (if, exceptionally, we find ourselves in a ticking bomb situation, other means short of torture may well allow us to avoid the risk).
This philosophy of using extreme measures to avoid or eliminate as much risk as possible is, I think, mistaken. If I’m right, the justification of torture as one of such extreme measures is void. And don’t say I’m fighting windmills here: this philosophy is omnipresent. Look at the swine flu hysteria for example, or the recent and silly airport and air travel security measures after the “Christmas Day Attack” (e.g. forcing passengers to sit down during the last hour of flight). Maybe we need a theory of no resort rather than a theory of last resort. Maybe we should learn to live with the fact that bad things happen and that often we can’t do a thing about them.
(source, click on the image to enlarge)
Here’s another version:
Read this map as follows: extraordinary renditions allegedly have been carried out from the countries in dark blue; detainees have allegedly been transported through those in light blue; to the countries in red. The United States and countries with suspected CIA black sites are indicated, appropriately, in black.
- Uncovered: Britain’s secret rendition programme (independent.co.uk)
- European rights chief: Rendition flights probes are weak because countries fear upsetting US (foxnews.com)
Tragically, a young Afghan girl was killed in late June by a box of information leaflets falling from a British military plane over Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province… The box failed to break open mid-air as planned and struck the girl, who later died of her injuries… This is believed to be the first time a civilian has been killed by a box of information leaflets… “If her family request compensation, we will obviously give it consideration,” an official said. (source, source)
Leaflets are dropped regularly in an effort to counter Taliban propaganda, to warn civilians of attacks or to inform them on elections or landmines. They are intended to help the local population and to win the “hearts and minds”.
President Sarkozy’s new domestic intelligence directorate (DCRI) learnt of an attack in Saudi Arabia in which the bomber detonated … a device in his rectum.
Al-Qaeda gave video publicity to its new method tested by Abdullah Hassan al-Asiri, a 23-year-old terrorist, who blew himself apart at a meeting in Jeddah in late August with Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the Saudi anti-terrorism chief. The Prince was slightly injured in the blast, but al-Asiri, who used a mobile telephone to trigger the bomb, was ripped into 70 pieces, the DCRI report said.
Such a blast, though limited in force, could be catastrophic in a pressurized airliner, say experts. Counter-measures would be draconian. As well as taking off shoes and handing in liquids, passengers could be subjected to X-ray screening or be required to hand in all electronic devices because they could be used as detonators, police commanders told Le Figaro newspaper. (source)
More on airport security, privacy in general, the war on terror, the link between the war on terror and the right to privacy, suicide bombings, and terrorist attacks. More absurd human rights violations. More scatological human rights violations.
[This post is by guest writer Robert Nijssen who also has his own blog].
Abu Omar is an imam from Egyptian origin, who was kidnapped by the CIA from the streets of Milan. For more information on his kidnapping please refer to my original post here. Last week the Italian trial against the involved CIA operatives was concluded and most of the operatives received substantial jail sentences. Please refer here for the whole story, or here for an interesting counter opinion.
A new blog series. The purpose of this series – contrary to many other series of posts on this blog – is not to inform, to entertain, or to argue for our points of view. What we want to do here is learn what you think. Of course, we have the comment sections for that, but here we want to try to guide your opinions in a more structured way. We will present you with certain moral dilemmas, some of which are well-known in philosophy; others not. Then we ask you to answer a few questions (and you can see how other people have answered). In case the straitjacket of the provided possible answers doesn’t suit you, you can of course go to the comment section and elaborate.
First dilemma: Suppose you spot a suicide bomber walking towards a crowd. There’s no doubt about his intentions. You are the only one who has correctly identified the bomber, and you have no other option but to use deadly force to stop him. You can’t warn the crowd, nor can you ask security forces to intervene. Moreover, the only possible way for you to stop him is by using a flamethrower.
In a previous post in this series, I discussed the concept of “accountability“ and how it’s typical of democracy: politicians, legislators, judges etc. have to give account of their actions. They have to explain what they did, why they did it, and how they did it. Democracy means that the people can dismiss their leaders if they believe they haven’t carried out their job according to the wishes of the people or according to the law. This possible dismissal can only happen if the people have complete and accurate information on the job performance of their leaders. That is why democracies have a free press that can investigate the conduct of politicians. That is also why they have parliaments where the opposition can question the government or the majority, and why they have “freedom of information acts” (see also here). Such acts – often called “sunshine laws” – impose mandatory disclosure of government records, with some exceptions. The people have a right to know, but unfortunately even countries with a long tradition of democracy often find it difficult to be completely transparent. Certain circumstances such as the war on terror make it easy for the governments of those countries to restrict their information obligations. Freedom of information legislation is often full of exceptions or subject to emergency restrictions.
(source; state by state information for the U.S. can be found here; you can generate your own freedom of information request in the form of a letter here)
For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.
This statement is intuitively convincing. Those who already have economic resources can use these to acquire even more of them, often if not by definition at the expense of those who don’t have them. It’s easy to see how wealthy people have better information to use their wealth in such a way that they can increase it. How they know the right people, how they can use the education system to their advantage (and to the advantage of their offspring), how they can use the political system to their advantage etc. Conversely, poor people are often stuck in a poverty trap: their poverty makes them sick, and their sickness even more poor; their poverty makes it hard to access education, and their lack of education makes them more poor etc.
You can see at once how this is relevant to the issue of human rights. While income or wealth inequality as such isn’t a human rights violation, it does have implications for human rights. And poverty is a human rights violation. But the Matthew Effect can be observed in other human rights as well. Take for instance the wiretapping that is used in the war on terror. Initially, wiretapping is targeted towards individuals who are suspected of plotting an attack. However, it seems inevitable that those who are authorized to use wiretapping expand the field of their authority. Instead of targeted wiretapping, they go on fishing expeditions: throwing out the nets as wide as possible and see which fishes end up in it. They start to use data-mining, for instance, checking private information of entire populations in order to filter out suspect individuals.
Another example of the Matthew Effect in human rights can be found in hate speech laws. The laws may initially impose limits on the freedom of speech that crack down on cases of hate speech that may cause violence and riots. However, once certain exceptions on the freedom of speech are legal and legitimate, the boundaries may move towards more restrictions. Maybe speech that doesn’t pose an imminent threat of violence but perhaps a longterm threat to the stability of a multicultural society – such as derogatory speech, or blasphemous speech – should also be prohibited. And then you may find yourself on a slippery slope.
I can also mention what I called “searchlight human rights violations” (see this previous post): for example, a certain level of sexual violence against women in a particular society, can teach young men a certain culture, mentality and value system that automatically leads to a wider use of violence.
However, I don’t believe things are as simple as this. While the Matthew Effect is certainly a force that is driving human rights violations, I don’t think there is anything inevitable or mechanical about it. There are other forces at play as well, and some of them go in the other direction. If that wouldn’t be the case, then the Matthew Effect would have landed us in a place where respect for human rights is non-existent, and would have done so a long time ago.
Regarding the particular case of wealth inequality, a simple application of the Matthew Effect would require a vision of the world with limited resources. And although some – important – resources are indeed limited, others – equally important ones – are not. It’s not because one person receives a good education, that another one must receive less education. And when one person accumulates riches, this can benefit others (his or her employees for example).
Suspicious looking tourists, beware! If you’re casually taking photographs of street scenes, U.K. police may arrest you. After all, you may well be a dangerous terrorist planning your next attack. That’s what happened to Alex Turner (also a blogger):
Photographer Alex Turner has been arrested by Kent police. … [He was] stopped by two men in Chatham High Street, after he took a picture of a fish bar called Mick’s Plaice. ”I saw a badge attached to one of the men’s waistband and saw the logo of Kent Police. The men asked me why I was taking pictures in the High Street. I told them photography was a hobby”.
Because they neither stated their authority nor properly identified themselves, Turner refused to answer their questions. The men summoned uniformed police. Turner took photographs of two officers as they approached him … and arrest followed. He was handcuffed, held in a police van and then questioned by two plain clothes officers. “They spoke about the threat of terrorism. They were keen to seek my agreement with regards to the views they expressed, both about the threat of terrorism and the suspicious nature of people with cameras and especially those who chose not to provide identifying details about themselves when requested to do so”. (source)
(source, © iStockphoto.com)
We usually, and correctly, think of human rights violations as a zero-sum game (although the word “game” is hardly appropriate here). A rights violation is a harm inflicted by one person on another, for the benefit of the former. And although the benefits for the violator do not always equal the harm for the victim in a quantitative sense, we can safely call it zero-sum. In fact, neither the harm nor the benefits that result from rights violations can always be quantified.
I have represented these harms and benefits in the table below (just look at row number 1 for the moment): a plus sign for “violator value” means that he or she receives some benefits from the violations (otherwise there probably wouldn’t be a violation); a minus for “victim value” means a harm done to him or her. And indeed this is the usual case. But you can see in the table that other combinations of values and signs are possible. But more on that in a moment.
The usual case – number 1 – is what we could call the typical human right violation. It’s zero-sum: the thief who steals from me gains what I lose; the oppressive government that limits my right to free speech or movement or assembly or organization, gains stability and regime security while I lose freedom. In case number 1, the violator always wins, and the person(s) whose rights are violated always lose(s), in roughly the same proportion (if proportions are at all relevant here).
The second, more exceptional case, occurs when not only the victim of the violations loses out, but also the perpetrator. Examples: the suicide bomber (except when he or she is right about Paradise, which I doubt); the use of torture, invasion, drone attacks etc. by the U.S. in its “war on terror” (tactics which create more terrorists than they eliminate).
The third case is still more exceptional, unfortunately, because it is really a win-win situation, disguised as zero-sum. Two examples. Take the development of the economies of India and China. It can be argued that these economies “take jobs away” from the developed countries, and that in a sense the right to work of many people in the West are violated because of it (the fact that none of this is intentional isn’t sufficient to claim that no rights are violated). However, as these developing countries increase the size of their economies, they will provide valuable and relatively cheap goods and services to businesses and households in developed countries, stimulating the economies there, and boosting disposable income, which reduces poverty in developed countries. As developing countries develop, they will also start to consume more western goods and services, with the same result. Again, no guarantee of course that the gains of one will equal the gains of the other, but at least it’s win-win and not zero-sum.
A second example, also to do with work: when a government withholds or stops unemployment benefits, it violates the rights of the unemployed. But when done under certain circumstances, this will encourage people to find work, and hence will make them better off in the end.
At first sight, these two examples look like typical zero-sum human rights violations, but not when look a bit closer.
The fourth case, where the victim of rights violations benefits from them, and the perpetrators lose out, is extremely exceptional, I guess. I could only come up with one example: the dictator becoming so oppressive that he creates revolt and ushers in his own downfall and the liberation of his people.
CNN reported some time ago that a
female bomber who killed five people just outside the heavily fortified Green Zone … was mentally disabled and her explosives vest was triggered by remote control. … the latest example of insurgents’ using mentally disabled female bombers to launch attacks.
As the girls from Wronging Rights have rightly pointed out: you can’t call this a suicide bombing.
Surely if you’re mentally disabled and somebody attaches a bomb to you and then detonates it by remote control you are not the bomber, but rather one of the victims?
As a result of this “innovative” tactic, Iraqi police
began rounding up beggars, homeless and mentally disabled people from the streets of Baghdad and other cities to prevent insurgents from using them as suicide [sic] bombers. (source)
Thereby massively violating the rights of those poor people. I guess one could call this preventive human rights violations. Or call it “adding insult to injury”. Whatever. Just goes to show that one absurd rights violation tends to produce a chain of even more absurd violations.
[This post is by guest writer Robert Nijssen who also has his own blog].
Imagine this, while walking to your local supermarket a minivan pulls up next to you, two men jump out, grab you and throw you in. This minivan turns out to be the start of a journey that ends in a prison where you are tortured for a year. During this year your family and friends have no idea what happened to you and assume the worst.
This may sound like a second rate thriller but unfortunately it is not: it happened to Osama Mustafa Hassan Nassir (better known under the name Abu Omar). Abu Omar, an imam from Egyptian origin, was kidnapped by the CIA from the streets of Milan. Subsequently he was taken to Egypt where he was tortured because of his known longstanding opposition to the Mubarak regime. For the complete story of his kidnapping please refer here or here.
During the investigation into his disappearance it became clear that already prior to his kidnapping Abu Omar had been under suspicion of terrorist activities. The team of the Italian police investigating these activities however, felt that there was insufficient evidence for his arrest and that, as he did not pose any imminent threat, more could be learned by just observing. The sudden removal of him from his regular working place not only made any legal action against him impossible, it also kept the Italian police from completing their investigation.
Although it seems to be commonly accepted these days that in our fight against terrorism we need to adopt a slightly more ‘practical’ attitude versus human rights, I still find it shocking that somebody can be grabbed from the streets of a country like Italy and just disappear for a year. In that light I cannot deny that there is a certain irony in the fact that in the end this blatant violation of human rights did not only do nothing to improve our security situation but by sabotaging a running investigation it might even have deteriorated it.
As a consequence of the Abu Omar disappearance a number of CIA operatives and Italian officials were charged by an Italian prosecutor in a trial that continues to this day. The Italian government, apparently less affected by human right violations occurring in their own back yard, has been trying to delay the process wherever it can. For more information on the trial please refer here and here.