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Last Updated: Monday, 17 January, 2005, 19:57 GMT
Is the US eroding human rights?
A detainee from Afghanistan is carried on a stretcher at Camp X-Ray, Guantanamo Bay (AP)
The US has been criticised over the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal and the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay by a leading human rights group.

Human Rights Watch said: "The US government is less and less able to push for justice abroad, because it's unwilling to see justice done at home."

Washington responded by saying it has condemned cases of abuse and is investigating allegations in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.

Is the criticism fair? Have the abuses committed by the US weakened the world's ability to protect human rights? What should be done about it? Send us your views.

This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we received:

It is up to the rest of the world to strengthen human rights
Sally Jones, Liverpool
The fact that the USA has abandoned any pretence to human rights should not be taken as a precedent by other nations. It is up to the rest of the world to strengthen human rights regardless of US doctrine, and thereby isolate the USA. The world community should instigate sanctions against America as it did with South Africa during the apartheid years.
Sally Jones, Liverpool, UK

The fact that America seems to think that it is the only country in the world to have suffered at the hand of terrorists and therefore has the right to disregard human rights only strengthens the case for a stronger United Nations enforcing the rights of the persecuted. America spends huge amounts trying to help other countries but a United Nations that isn't constantly undermined by the US and its vetoes to help allies with dubious or nonexistent territorial claims will already help restore human rights mainly in the Middle East.
Ben, France

So let me get this straight, the US puts an end to the repressive regime in Afghanistan and topples Saddam Hussein's torturous rule but we can't be an advocate for human rights around the world because of a handful of abuse cases? Those cases are being investigated and people put on trial.
Mike, New York, USA

The US military uncovered the Abu Ghraib situation and quickly moved to condemn it and bring those responsible to justice. Not to suggest we lower our standards, but show me one other military organization in the world that would do that?
Dan, USA

The desire of the US to be exempt from prosecution by the ICC is only too easily seen as evidence
Alexandra Grönvall, Sweden
Of course the criticism from the HRW is fair. Not only does the US repeatedly violate the very rights they claim to be defending - they also refuse to recognise the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court! The purpose of the ICC is to prosecute individuals responsible for serious crimes of international concern: genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The rationale of the actions of the US government is that innocent US citizens would otherwise risk being prosecuted - out of spite - by those who hate America.

What the US apparently fails to perceive is that such behaviour (for example, threatening to suspend military aid to countries refusing to grant US citizens immunity from the ICC) does indeed undermine human rights world wide. The desire of the US to be exempt from prosecution by the ICC is only too easily seen as evidence that the USA, the self-proclaimed upholder of global law and justice, itself does not respect human rights and international law. Why else would they fear the impartial judgment of the ICC?
Alexandra Grönvall, Göteborg, Sweden

Before climbing on our high horse, let's take note of breaches of human rights by the UK government. There are still a number of people detained for years without trial at HMP Belmarsh; not to mention refugees (including children) held despite having committed no crime in so-called reception centres, prisons by any other name.

The right to silence has been eroded, the right to trial by jury is being restricted and access to legal aid reduced. And the islanders of Diego Garcia, supposedly citizens of the UK, are still denied the right to return to their islands because the US has an air base there. As Marge Simpson said, we're like Mini Me to the American Dr Evil!
Ben Drake, York, UK

We are supposed to be the shining model of civility, democracy, and human rights for all
Michael, Madison, WI, USA
The criticisms are fair, valid, and should have been acted on immediately. Instead, the Bush administration is content on keeping a murky definition of torture, even though any information gleaned using those methods can be regarded as suspect at best. We are supposed to be better than this. We are supposed to be the shining model of civility, democracy, and human rights for all.
Michael, Madison, WI, USA

Security is a basic element of human rights, but we are living in a time when we have to consider giving priority to security against human rights. The most debatable part of the problem is that the US administration has always used the phrase "human rights" as an excuse for their controversial acts in the name of security. It would be interesting to see justice done but most of all that they mean it.
Mary McCannon, Budapest, Hungary

All governments everywhere are up to no-good all of the time. It's just that the USA is not particularly subtle about it.
Chris Klein, Chandlers Ford, UK

It's extremely ironic and sad that as America goes around pushing its weight (with us in tow unfortunately) trying to rid the world of 'evil' it appears to be treating people just as badly (on a much smaller scale mind) as the countries and regimes that it has looked down on.
Iain Ashby, Aberystwyth, UK

The unfortunate truth is that the Bush regime along with the Neo Con movement have begun a class war in which those with money will be heard and those who are poor have no rights whatsoever. The poor have no hope and the wealthy do not care.

No, quite frankly. The world has changed. The UN has proved itself totally useless. It is left to the US to try and aid the world's desperate people, as the tsunami relief effort showed. Seeing as the US is the only power in the world with the guts to stand up for democracy against rotting dictator states, we should stop complaining when it does things that offend our over-delicate sensibilities.
Jon Harrison, York, England

When we have some sort of moral high ground we can justifiably criticise the US
Dominic Tristram, Bath, UK
I don't think it's fair to single out the US. Let's tend to our own problems first. We are locking up people indefinitely without trial and proposing secret trials without juries. When we have some sort of moral high ground we can justifiably criticise the US, not before.
Dominic Tristram, Bath, UK

The US government behaves as if it a shining beacon of moral decency that others must follow, whether they like it or not. This position is severely undermined by its human rights abuses. And what greater advertisement could there be for terrorist recruitment than the pictures that have emerged from Abu Ghraib?
Ian, Heathrow

I used to think of the US and the UK as the good guys. We treated everyone with respect and upheld human rights no matter the person. There was something noble in that, knowing you would be safe in a western prison. A sad end to something I used to respect.
Mark, Sussex, UK

I think there's a difference between human rights of normal people oppressed by a governmental regime and those incarcerated on acts of terrorism which we got to differentiate between. If the roles were reversed what human rights would the soldiers be getting? Locked up in Guantanamo or your head removed. Which would you choose?
John, Osaka, Japan

The only people who abuse human rights are the terrorists themselves. Why is blame always laid at another door? Let those who kill by the sword die by it.
Carole, UK

The scary thing about the USA and their flagrant abuse of power is that millions of them, including their leader, believe that they are on a mission from God and so can't be doing wrong. Religion and politics should never mix.
Andrew Malden, Milton Keynes, England

The US is taking human rights back to where they should be
Stuart, Surrey
The US is taking human rights back to where they should be. Everyone is born with a full compliment of human rights - as you abuse the dignity of human life (or ignore natural law - the innate knowledge of right and wrong) then these rights reduce accordingly. Simple and fair!
Stuart, Surrey

I don't believe anybody should point fingers at the US or any other nation until all human rights abuses are highlighted equally. Why is that the West has to abide by a set of rules, while China, North Korea and many African and Middle Eastern countries simply continue their barbaric practices without anything being done? Double standards as usual.
Craig H, London, UK

These human rights abuses have been going on for years - before Guantanamo and the Middle East it was Central America.
Jamie, Reading, UK

Their own double standards have seriously damaged the world's opinion
David Priddy, Slough, UK
Imagine the outcry if it was US citizens being held in similar circumstances. America found a loophole in the law, but by choosing to exploit it they have totally undermined their position. America likes to think of itself as a beacon for democracy and human rights, but their own double standards have seriously damaged the world's opinion.
David Priddy, Slough, UK

The US should practice what it preaches. They are the best terrorist recruitment drive going. How can the war against terrorism ever be won while the US just ignores everyone else?
Mark, Norwich

George W Bush is currently seeking to move the goal post as to what constitutes torture in the US legal system to allow more aggressive techniques to be used against terrorist suspects. The hypocrisy is appalling and we should prevent our troops from operating under or alongside US forces until this abhorrent practice is halted, because by standing with them we are seen to be supporting their policies in this regard.
Tom M, Bristol, UK

Does Human Rights Watch also keep track of the treatment of American prisoners in American jails? It'd be interesting to know what standards are applied in them.
P Humphrey, Newcastle

They have created out of thin air a new category of detainee with no rights at all
Jon G, Huddersfield
Washington misses the point in its claims of investigating the abuse allegations: Guantanamo Bay is the abuse. The details of what may or may not have happened there is subsidiary to the very idea of detaining these people, whatever they are supposed to have done, without giving them the slightest legal protection is an abuse of power. International law is far from perfect, but is has developed to afford people protection from such abuses. Because such protection does not fit the US government's whim, they have created out of thin air a new category of detainee with no rights at all.

I don't immediately care what the detainees may or may not have done. Part of being civilised is that we treat humans to certain standards. If that is not done, then as far as I am concerned, it is no better than the actions of the terrorists themselves. I don't care how much the US government protests that they know that these people are guilty - I regard such claims as about as reliable as their claims about WMD. If they are so sure, they should let it be tested in a court of law.
Jon G, Huddersfield, UK

When the US decided that the Geneva convention no longer applied to all, and that people could be detained without trial for an unspecified length of time, they seriously undermined their right to criticise the human rights records of other governments.
Kate, London, UK

Please let us separate the actions of Mr Bush's government from Americans as a whole. Mr Bush is eroding human rights.
Michael, London, UK

The erosion of human rights was started by the terrorists, not by the response of governments around the world. Terrorist victims had rights too, which liberal lefties like HRW tend to forget about.
Nigel MacDonald, Camborne, UK

Yes, and what is worse we seem to be following them down this road
Dan H, Manchester, UK
Yes, and what is worse we seem to be following them down this road. The UK government has for years pursued a steady path of increasing government spying on the public, and erosion of human rights to the extent that we can be imprisoned for keeping private, encrypted data private. All this doesn't actually do any good.

Internment of IRA suspects didn't help when implemented; massive electronic spying didn't predict the 9/11 events. This needs to be stopped, and the root causes of terrorism addressed instead of following the course of oppressing innocent members of the population.
Dan H, Manchester, UK

Of course America is abusing human rights, if they think that you are a justifiable target. Then you can see what happens. Bush seems to give the impression that it is his way or we make you do it our way.
Keith, Thetford, UK

The US has been quite unwise in their actions. Whilst they haven't acted unlawfully in Guantanamo bay (rather it's outside all laws) it doesn't look good. But to compare the US to say, Sudan's actions in Darfur, China's treatment of Falun Gong members and political activists or Iran's stoning of rape victims is quite wrong and is characteristic of the anti-Americanism sweeping through Europe.
Peter, Nottingham

I fail to see how recent events can have damaged America's standing abroad as it couldn't possibly have got any lower anyway. Simple American self-righteous arrogance in its foreign policy has already done all the harm. Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo merely justify previous negative perceptions about America. I doubt America will take any notice of this report, much like it ignores everything else that makes it look bad.
Martin, England

The US, rightly or wrongly, is seen as the gold standard of democracy for the whole world. When even the US blatantly flout basic human rights - it sends the message out that nobody should bother about human rights. Why should China do anything to stop torture in their jails - if they see the US doing the same to their suspected criminals?
Jeffrey Lake, London, UK

The US recently refused entry to a man whose name was the same as a so-called suspected terrorist. I believe it was never proven that he was the same person and they acted only on the name. What hope is there for other persons with similar names? If there was a terrorist named Tony Blair, would our prime minister be suspected? I doubt it.
Kevin Weston, Warminster, England

A balance has to be struck between the sort of activities the US gets away with - as it is the global equivalent of the playground bully - and the sort of hand wringing the EU specialises in. This merely hampers the ability of nations to protect its citizens and its borders.
Pete, Cambridge, England

The US and other Western nations are certainly guilty of double standards, while using the War on Terror as a justification for all manner of unpleasant policies. We criticise Saddam for human rights violations, but cosy up to people like President Karimov of Uzbekistan, who has had political prisoners boiled to death.

It also seems that the US only condemns cases of abuse when they are found out - there are, in all probability, even worse abuses being carried out away from any public scrutiny, in places like Diego Garcia and Bagram Airbase. Given this, is it any surprise when countries like Russia justify their own human rights abuses by referring to the actions of the US and the West?
Georgie, Cambridge, UK


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