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Obama Has Nothing to Teach China’s Hu


“President Obama … gently but pointedly prodded China to make progress on human rights,” reports the New York Times.

The irony should not escape us. The head of the U.S. empire, which for years has committed a variety of atrocities abroad and widespread surveillance at home, lectured President Hu Jintao of China about human rights. You can’t make this stuff up!

On the same day that news story ran, the Times reported that Obama would lift his ban on military commissions for prisoners held at Guantanamo in Cuba. So much for his promise to close the notorious prison where men have been held for years without charge. So much for his promise to hold at least some real trials in the criminal justice system, where the accused at least have some protections. Military commissions have been rightly called kangaroo courts, even by the prosecutors.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of the Obama administration’s atrocious human-rights record. Although Obama campaigned against George W. Bush’s trashing of the Bill of Rights, the current administration has one-upped Bush in virtually every respect. Many of Bush’s neoconservative henchmen and supporters, such as former Vice President Dick Cheney and writer William Kristol, have expressed grudging approval for Obama’s conduct in office.

We can hit only the low-lights. It was the Obama administration that brought before a kangaroo court Omar Khadr, a Canadian taken into custody after being gravely wounded during a battle in Afghanistan and charged with a war crime despite the fact that he was 15, the U.S. force initiated the fight, and there couldn’t have been evidence he actually did anything. Moreover, Khadr was tortured while in custody, making his eventual plea bargain suspect.

Meanwhile, prisoners from Yemen are still being held in Guantanamo even though judges have ordered them released at habeas corpus proceedings. The Obama administration favors indefinite detention, without charge, in cases where evidence was obtained by torture and would therefore be inadmissible or where it believes prisoners would not be proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a real court. It has even claimed the authority to hold suspects who have been acquitted. How is that not a gross violation of human rights?

What standing does Obama have to lecture the president of China, when his administration placed a 19-year-old American citizen, Gulet Mohamed, who had no prior brush with the law, on the no-fly list, stranding him in Kuwait, where he was interrogated, beaten, and threatened with torture? Only after the case came to public attention and civil-liberties activists got involved was Mohamed allowed to fly home.

Countless other persons, whose names we do not know, are held in prisons in other countries, where they are tortured and held without the prospect of release.

And let us not forget Pfc. Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier accused of providing WikiLeaks with secret information about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as 250,000 State Department cables. Since July he has been in custody, first in Kuwait then in Quantico, Virginia. There he is held in solitary confinement, kept in his cell for 23 hours a day without a pillow or sheets. He is not permitted to sleep between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m. Such treatment is widely regarded as torture. Remember, he is only charged with transferring classified data. He has had no trial and has been convicted of nothing.

For people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere, the U.S. government represents a daily assault on human rights, since U.S. forces and unmanned drones kill innocents as a matter of course. Night raids in Afghanistan are so egregious that the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has condemned the U.S. policy and has threatened to join the Taliban, the supposed enemy the Obama administration is fighting.

Finally, the human rights of all Americans are violated daily by the growing surveillance state, an alliance of federal, state, and local law-enforcement agencies that indiscriminately gathers information on us without probable cause and even when officials know that no wrongdoing is taking place.

Whatever Obama may have to teach Hu, it’s not respect for human rights.

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    Sheldon Richman is former vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.