Officials concede that the prison scandal raised questions of authority, but the document lauds efforts in Iraq and mentions no violations.
WASHINGTON — The State Department, issuing its annual human rights report, acknowledged Monday that the U.S. military’s prison scandal has raised legitimate questions about whether the United States can sit in judgment on other countries’ moral records.
- Source: Human Rights Watch
In light of world outrage over abuses of Iraqi prisoners, it is reasonable to ask whether “Abu Ghraib robs us of our ability to talk about human rights abroad,” said Lorne Craner, assistant secretary of State overseeing human rights. But he insisted that foreigners still wanted the United States to push for rights in their countries.
“People understand we’re not perfect. If they thought we were perfect, they would have given up on us after things like My Lai and Watergate and Iran-Contra,” he said, referring to the 1968 massacre in Vietnam and scandals from the 1970s and 1980s.
Craner’s words were a sign of how difficult it has become for the United States to hold itself up as an advocate for human rights amid worldwide anger over the prison abuse scandal. The kind of mistreatment alleged at the prison, including sexual abuse and humiliation, constitutes the types of violations that the United States condemns in the reports, human rights advocates said.
“It’s awkward …. [U.S.] credibility has taken a huge blow,” said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. He said the predicament was “a perfect example of how it’s not enough to have moral clarity if you don’t have moral authority.”
The report also includes a 2½ -page summary of U.S. efforts to rebuild Iraq, praising the U.S. government for efforts to stimulate the economy and implant democracy. It mentions no human rights violations by U.S. forces or their allies.
The report, designed to lay out what the U.S. government is doing to promote rights, usually receives little note. This year, it drew wide attention when the department postponed its scheduled release May 5 as the abuse scandal was growing.
At the time, the State Department said “technical reasons” delayed the report. But Craner said Monday that officials were concerned that “the Abu Ghraib scandal was a cloud that was obscuring what we were trying to do…. We want to punch through the cloud and say, ‘We’re not going to give up.’ “
Craner said foreigners have told U.S. officials that, despite their disapproval of the scandal, they still wanted the U.S. government’s help.
At the same time, Craner said, some of the governments named as rights violators have objected to criticism, citing the prison scandal. He declined to disclose which ones.
Craner maintained that U.S. efforts to promote rights have not been hurt by the U.S. shutdown of an anti-American news outlet in Iraq, or by U.S. pressure against Al Jazeera, the Arab-language satellite TV channel. Those outlets, he said, violated international journalistic standards by inciting their audiences to violence.
The report cites human rights violations in a number of countries that are U.S. allies and collaborators in the war against Islamic militants, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Yemen. It says Pakistani and Saudi human rights records “remain poor.”
The report said Israel’s human rights record in the West Bank “remained poor, and worsened in the treatment of foreign human rights activists.”
The Palestinian Authority “also had a poor human rights record,” it said.