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Senior German Government Official Puts Guantanamo in Perspective

The human rights commissioner of the German government, Guenter Nooke (CDU), said on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of Guantanamo that the prison with its 395 inmates was "not as special as it is portrayed in the public" given the "thousands of human rights abuses" in Darfur, China, Russia, Cuba and other countries.
While many American news outlets wrote about European criticism of Guantanamo and fueled the claims of European double standards, only United Press International briefly mentioned Nooke's comments and focused on the criticism from opposition parties.
Yes, the United States is a democracy and deserves to be held to a higher moral standard than China, Russia and others, but that does not mean that much worse human rights violaters should get a free pass. Sueddeutsche Zeitung (subscribers only) and Netzzeitung quote Germany's human rights commissioner as saying that one should not grant a 90 percent discount to autoritarian regimes who violate human rights, while demanding from America 110% compliance with human rights:
Man kann nicht sagen, in Diktaturen oder autoritären Regimen gibt es 90 Prozent Menschenrechtsrabatt, während für Amerika die Einhaltung der Menschenrechte zu 110 Prozent gefordert wird.
Related posts in the Atlantic Review: Europe's Moral Outrage and Why is Abu Ghraib a cover story again, but not Darfur?
Merkel called for the closure of Guantanamo prior to her first trip to Washington DC as chancellor in January 2006 and has repeated that position frequently.
Mr Nooke
deserves credit for demanding more attention to human rights violations in other parts of the world. He reacted to criticism of his comments by reaffirming that Guantanamo is a "catastrophe for the West's credibility," reports N24 (in German). Yes, the "West's credibility," not just America's credibility; see The Burden of Guantanamo. Gitmo does damage to US allies. Therefore strong criticism is justified.
 
ENDNOTE: German Joys writes that a new Human Rights Watch report "calls
on the European Union to take the lead in human-rights enforcement, as the U.S. no longer has sufficient credibility to fulfill that role," but also criticizes Germany and the EU for being "too generous" toward human rights abuses in Russia and other important energy suppliers.

UPDATE: The Washington Post has learned:
Germany is investigating two special forces soldiers accused of assaulting a Turkish man while he was held in Afghanistan in 2002, prosecutors said on Monday. Murat Kurnaz, who has German residency, was sent from Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay prison camp for terrorism suspects where he spent nearly five years before his release in August. (...) The Kurnaz case is an embarrassment in Germany which also faces allegations that the previous government secretly aided a U.S. program to kidnap and fly terrorism suspects to third countries for interrogation.

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Anonymous on :

There are much more than "thousands of human rights abuses" in Darfur, China, Russia... Point taken anyway.

David on :

Herr Nooke has one perspective on Guantanamo. Here is the perspective of JUMAH AL-DOSSARI, a 33-year-old citizen of Bahrain, who has been held at Guantánamo without charges since 2002: ""At Guantanamo, soldiers have assaulted me, placed me in solitary confinement, threatened to kill me, threatened to kill my daughter and told me I will stay in Cuba for the rest of my life. They have deprived me of sleep, forced me to listen to extremely loud music and shined intense lights in my face. They have placed me in cold rooms for hours without food, drink or the ability to go to the bathroom or wash for prayers. They have wrapped me in the Israeli flag and told me there is a holy war between the Cross and the Star of David on one hand and the Crescent on the other. They have beaten me unconscious. What I write here is not what my imagination fancies or my insanity dictates. These are verifiable facts witnessed by other detainees, representatives of the Red Cross, interrogators and translators." "I would rather die than stay here forever, and I have tried to commit suicide many times. The purpose of Guantanamo is to destroy people, and I have been destroyed. I am hopeless because our voices are not heard from the depths of the detention center. If I die, please remember that there was a human being named Jumah at Guantanamo whose beliefs, dignity and humanity were abused. Please remember that there are hundreds of detainees at Guantanamo suffering the same misfortune. They have not been charged with any crimes. They have not been accused of taking any action against the United States. " You can read Jumah's entire letter in the [url=http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-dossari11jan11,0,4240384.story?coll=la-opinion-center] Los Angeles Times [/url].

Anonymous on :

"Herr Nooke has one perspective on Guantanamo. Here is the perspective of JUMAH AL-DOSSARI" What is the difference between them?

Don S on :

David (and others): do you find al-Dossari's letter credible or 'incredible' based upon what you know about Guantanamo Bay? Why or why not?

David on :

Torture of detainees at Guantanamo was witnessed and documented by 26 FBI agents. Here is just one report from the [url=http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A14936-2004Dec20.html]Washington Post[/url]: "Detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were shackled to the floor in fetal positions for more than 24 hours at a time, left without food and water, and allowed to defecate on themselves, an FBI agent who said he witnessed such abuse reported in a memo to supervisors, according to documents released yesterday. In memos over a two-year period that ended in August, FBI agents and officials also said that they witnessed the use of growling dogs at Guantanamo Bay to intimidate detainees -- contrary to previous statements by senior Defense Department officials -- and that one detainee was wrapped in an Israeli flag and bombarded with loud music in an apparent attempt to soften his resistance to interrogation."

joe on :

Don Of course David finds Dossari's letter to be creditable. Remember he both voted and worked for Jon Curry.

Anonymous on :

I'm always amused by Americans who believe whatever their government tells them.

joe on :

Anon, Oh I have to agree with you on that statement. It is amazing who the US government wants its citizens to believe that are their allies. They want you to focus on the words these nations use and not their actions.

David on :

@Joe, Have you ever once gotten involved in the democratic process? Or do you just like to mock those that do?

joe on :

I really don’t understand HRW’s position. Why not the UN Commission on Human Rights? The UN has always been one of those organizations HRW had championed. Besides the current commission is as much the will and desire of the EU than any other organization within the UN. It was the EU and the member nations who voted for this Commission over the objections of the US. Maybe it is the position of HRW that Europe has a long history of guarding human rights.

Omar on :

First, i think Mr. Nooke's remarks were out of place. Not only should the US be held to the standards, that it thinks it should invade other countries for, but also it is quite contra productive to relate the abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib to others (you named only some) on the day, that was supposed to be a rallying day especially against Guantanamo. It's like saying either you go on the streets every single day, because practically you'd need more days than a year has to protest all the human rights abuses in the world, or you just have to shut up about Gitmo and Abu Ghraib. Back to the first point. If one of the reasons why the US invaded Iraq was to liberate the people from Saddam (since every other reasonable (and at least a little bit moral) reason didn't quite check out), then who will have to go invade the US to liberate not only the 70% of the Americans that are against the current Administration but also those at Guantanamo Bay? Of course, whoever tries to invade the US has to get a free-pass on human rights, right? Sorry for the long comment.

David on :

@Omar, We will greet the liberators with flowers and chocolates!

Omar on :

@David: I seem to remember some Iraqis telling Bush that they would welcome US-troops the same way. I don't want to compare you to Chalabi, but i do think any nation should pass on that offer.. ;)

JW-Atlantic Review on :

@ Omar Long comments are great. Please keep them coming. "it is quite contra productive to relate the abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib to others (you named only some) on the day, that was supposed to be a rallying day especially against Guantanamo." Perhaps that is the case. I think, however, that China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and others are responsible for much worse human rights violation, but the media does not care much. Thus I think it is fair enough to use the anniversary of Gitmo to draw attention to others as well. Besides, I believe, this would increase the credibility of European criticism of Guantanamo. If Europeans focus most of their human rights criticism on Guantanamo and give a free pass to China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and other authoritarian countries we like to do business with, then our criticism of Guantanamo is pretty hypocritical rather than credible. Why should anybody in the US pay attention to such criticism? BTW: In another commentary The Sueddeutsche Zeitung called Nooke's criticism particularly devastating, because he has put the US on the same level (or in the same league) as China and Russia and compared them all. He does not expect the US to be better than China and Russia, thus he considers it worthy to point out that US human rights violations are not as bad as the China's and Russia's.

Omar on :

Joerg, as far as i understood it, the main organizer of the protests was amnesty international. They do such "days" for every major issue. Just have a look at their site. i don't think they treating the US in an especially bad way. I remember a time, when any Arab official who was asked about human rights violations in his country would say, well just look at the US, they are breaching those rights by having a death sentence or "they have police attacking people racially" or whatever. In my opinion one does not have to compare between two countries but instead every official has to answer to his actions! By the way, ai is running a campaign to get the German leadership to set human rights on the agenda of their EU-leadership. If you have a look at their 10-point-program, you'll notice under point 7 "Strategische Partner" that criticism against China and Russia is being mentioned first. Of course they reiterated their criticism against Guantanamo.. Furthermore, the map of human rights abuses in Europe could be a helpful tool to tackle those points. Still, i think the criticism has to be concentrated for it ti to do any good. Otherwise it's "wischiwaschi" and no government will react.

Don S on :

"Sueddeutsche Zeitung and Netzzeitung quote Germany's human rights commissioner as saying that one should not grant a 90 percent discount to autoritarian regimes who violate human rights, while demanding from America 110% compliance with human rights: " Of course this is true, except that Sueddeutsche Zeitung understates the case. Most European and US 'Human rights' crusaders give everyone else a free pass while coming down 1000% on the US. I guess if you average 1000% on the US and 1% on Russia and China that comes out to 333%, eh? The new math. Nonethekless this useful to people who wish to point out that Europe occasionlly turns it's attention to something other than the US. It's true. VERY occasionally.....

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