Skip to content

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.

"Foreign Policy by Report Card" Blamed for "Nurturing Seething Resentment Abroad"

On September 15, 2006, the State Department released the latest International Religious Freedom Report and concludes that a "generally free practice of religion" is possible in Germany, but also has some criticism:
Although the country's religious demography grew increasingly complex, the generally amicable relationships among religious groups in society contributed to religious freedom. Important religious concerns included the organization of Islamic religious instruction in schools; social and governmental (federal and state) treatment of certain religious minorities, notably Scientologists and Jehovah's Witnesses; and bans in certain states on the wearing of headscarves by female Muslim teachers in public schools. The U.S. government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. The U.S. government placed particular emphasis on support for direct dialogue between representatives of minority religious groups and relevant government officials.
Read the full report on Germany at the State Department. John R. Hamilton, who retired last year after 35 years as a Foreign Service officer, incl. ambassadorships to Peru and Guatemala, criticizes the many annual State Department reports as
"foreign policy by report card," the issuing of public assessments of the performance of other countries, with the threat of economic or political sanctions for those whose performance, in our view, doesn't make the grade. The overuse of these mandated reports makes us seem judgmental, moralistic and bullying.
He argues that these reports "nurtured seething resentment abroad", because "the tolerance of other societies for being publicly judged by the United States has reached its limits." (I don't think Germans pay that much attention to these annual reports, but some newspapers do take notice.) Mr. Hamilton explains in the Washington Post:
Each year we issue detailed human rights reports on every country in the world, including those whose performance appears superior to our own. We judge whether other countries have provided sufficient cooperation in fighting illegal drugs. We place countries whose protection of intellectual property has been insufficient on "watch lists," threatening trade sanctions against those that do not improve. We judge respect for labor rights abroad through a public petition process set up under the System of Generalized (trade) Preferences. We publish annual reports on other countries' respect for religious freedom. And more: We seek to ensure the adequacy of civil aviation oversight and the security of foreign airports through special inspections and categorizing of government performance. (…) We report on trafficking in persons and categorize the performance of every country where such trafficking is a problem, which is just about everywhere. And we withhold military education, training and materiel assistance from countries that do not enter into agreements with us to protect our nationals from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.
Mr. Hamilton's conclusion "Our public reports have reinforced the view abroad that we set ourselves up unilaterally as police officer, judge and jury of other countries' conduct." explains in part why America is more often criticized than any other country in much of the international media. Fareed Zakaria made such an argument in Newsweek last year:
I often argue with an Indian businessman friend of mine that America is unfairly singled out for scrutiny abroad. "Why didn't anyone criticize the French or Chinese for their meager response to the tsunami?" I asked him recently. His response was simple. "America positions itself as the moral arbiter of the world, it pronounces on the virtues of all other regimes, it tells the rest of the world whether they are good or evil," he said. "No one else does that. America singles itself out."
The State Department does a good and necessary job of criticizing human trafficking, lack of religious freedom and other human rights violations around the world. However, while some countries get punished, some U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia do not. Nobody should be surprised that many of America's critics are not fair and balanced either. That's how the cookie crumbles. (As always, emphasis in bold was added)

Talking about Torture and Using Germany for Illustration

To your left is a short video clip of a talk show discussion about the Senate vote on the controversial detainee interrogation bill.
It's a good summary of some of the usual pro and con arguments. Reza Aslam, author of No God But God. The Origin, Evolution and Future of Islam (Amazon.com, Amazon.de) is noteworthy.
The panelist Sandy Rios defends the Bush policy and the Senate vote. To support her opinion she incorrectly claims that a German prosecutor used non-life-threatening coercion techniques to get the location of a kidnapped boy from the suspect. Bill Maher's response was inaudible to me (do you understand him?); nobody corrected her statement. In the case she mentioned nobody used any such techniques. The deputy policy chief threatened to use violence. The deputy police chief and another policeman were temporarily suspended and a judge said in his concluding statement: "With the threat of torture the police did grave damage to the rule of law of this country." Background in DW World.
Continue reading "Talking about Torture and Using Germany for Illustration"

Congressman Accuses Germany of "Complicity in Promoting Sex Trafficking" (UPDATE)

Congressman Christopher Smith, chairman of the human rights subcommittee, held a hearing to investigate Germany's World Cup Brothels, because "40,000 women and children [are] at risk of exploitation through trafficking":
An estimated 3 million fans from around the world will attend the games, and vast numbers of them are expected to buy sex as a form of entertainment. As many as 40,000 additional women are expected to be added to the approximately 400,000 women in Germany’s sex industry. Germans are accommodating the trade in women by facilitating the construction of mega-brothels and "sex huts," and cities hosting the games will issue special permits for street prostitution, creating a virtual partnership with brothel owners, pimps and traffickers.
Continue reading "Congressman Accuses Germany of "Complicity in Promoting Sex Trafficking" (UPDATE)"