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More to Fear Than Fear Itself: The War on Terror’s War on Human Rights

The US should head the UN human rights rapporteur’s demand to release information about CIA programs under Bush.

In his first inaugural address on March 4, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said: “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Eighty years later to the day, Ben Emmerson, UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, in a report to the UN Human Rights Council, called on the United States to publish its findings on the CIA’s Bush-era program of rendition and secret detention of terrorism suspects. Emmerson could well expand his demand to a far wider array of human rights violations that span far more that what the United States has done under the Bush and Obama administrations.

America’s nameless, unreasoning, unjustified fear of terror has caused us to launch immoral wars, slaughter innocent civilians with bombs and drones, impose an undeclared military draft on the poor and people of color, violate civil liberties and human rights, demonize Muslims and Islam, divert precious resources from desperate human needs into weapons of mass destruction, delay for generations the prospects of peace, and, most recently, shamefully refuse to investigate and prosecute any of these crimes against humanity.

Emmerson expressed grave concern that while Obama’s administration has rejected CIA practices conducted under his predecessor, there have been no prosecutions. “Despite this clear repudiation of the unlawful actions carried out by the Bush-era CIA, many of the facts remain classified, and no public official has so far been brought to justice in the United States,” Emmerson said in a report to the UN Human Rights Council, which he will address on March 5. The war on terror led to “gross or systematic” violations involving secret prisons for Islamic militant suspects, clandestine transfers and torture, Emmerson said.

In response to Attorney General Eric Holder’s position that the Department of Justice would not prosecute any official who acted in good faith and within the scope of legal guidance given by its Office of Legal Counsel on interrogation, Emmerson pointed out that using a “superior orders defense” and invoking secrecy on national security grounds was “perpetuating impunity for the public officials implicated in these crimes.”

Emmerson said he believed that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, chaired by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), which has investigated the CIA’s secret detention and interrogation practices, including waterboarding, has had unrestricted access to classified information. He urged the US government “to publish without delay, and to the fullest extent possible” the Senate report, except for any information strictly necessary to protect legitimate national security interests or the safety of people identified in it.

“There is now credible evidence to show that CIA black sites were located on the territory of Lithuania, Morocco, Poland, Romania and Thailand, and that the officials of at least 49 other states allowed their airspace or airports to be used for rendition flights,” Emmerson said. He urged those five countries to conduct “effective independent judicial or quasi-judicial inquiries” into the allegations. Any public officials who may have authorized or helped in setting up such facilities should be held accountable, he added.

In January, Emmerson announced he would investigate the use of unmanned drones in counterterrorism operations, given the number of innocent civilians killed. Emmerson’s nonbinding report has only moral authority, but it will add pressure on the Obama administration not to allow what he called a “blanket of official impunity” to descend.

Fear – that “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified fear” FDR spoke of (and which even he could not resist, as he would later send 120,000 innocent Japanese Americans into internment camps), fomented every day by politicians and warmongers – has blinded the American people to accept the new normal as all around us, cherished human rights are sacrificed on the altar of national security. Benjamin Franklin’s dire warning cannot be repeated often enough. “Any Society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.”

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