Sunday, September 12, 2010

The War on Human Rights

I’m not an American citizen. I have never lived in the USA and I probably never will. I wasn’t going to write anything about 9/11 because I wasn’t there, it didn’t affect me personally. When it happened I was in my teens, I had just gotten home from my piano lesson and was sitting in my room, ignoring my homework and watching tv. Almost every tv channel was airing something about the World Trade Center. I watched in silence as the second plane hit. I watched as the towers fell. All around the world, the catastrophe was being aired live. I was young and couldn’t quite grasp the enormity of the situation, but regardless I knew that from that day on the world would be a different place.

And it was.

The Bush administration launched a war on terror. The target wasn’t the one group of truly evil people who had done this, but instead an entire country, full of civilians and innocents. Security was upgraded until the mere thought of people’s right to privacy was a joke. Suddenly everyone with Middle Eastern looks was a terrorist and treated as one. Airports installed full body scanners that produce an image of your naked body, and if you weren’t comfortable with someone looking at your naked form, you were forced to agree to a strip search. By a UN Resolution the entire world was cast into a permanent state of emergency where human rights could be derogated from, and was so in an arbitrary and wrongful way.

A horrendous event that should have united people, instead worked exactly as Al-Qaida wanted. Americans united, and while many wanted to leave it at that, many many more turned their united rage towards anyone who was male, young and had a beard. Terrorist suspects lost every right to be treated as human beings. While every person in the entire world has had their right to privacy violated in some way or other due to the security upgrades since 9/11, terrorist suspects have had their right to fair trial and right to life violated. They have been tortured and thrown into prison to rot without trial, with their right to representation completely ignored.

I’m not defending terrorists. They should be punished for their acts. I’m speaking for those people who are suspected of being a terrorist. That could be you or me. Anyone could be a terrorist suspect without actually having done anything. Just because a man is Muslim, young, of Middle Eastern descent and has a beard doesn’t make him any more terrorist than you or I. But he will without doubt be treated as one.

In the UK a “stop and search” technique was implemented after 9/11 where police officers stopped random people on the street if they seemed suspect, and searched them. Asian people were 3.6 times more likely to be stopped than white people. Black people where 4.3 times more likely to be stopped. In 2003 the 8.120 stops of pedestrians led to only 5 arrests. Incidentally, all of those arrested were white.

Terrorist suspects are being tortured right now. When the general public is asked for their opinion, a majority will think this is okay. What went wrong when it became okay to torture people? No matter how I look at it is torture morally or legally sane. Imagine a ticking bomb scenario. A person has admitted to having placed a time bomb somewhere. It is armed and ticking. Someone you love might be in danger. But the suspect won’t tell the authorities where the bomb is. Should the authorities use torture to make the suspect tell them where the bomb is?

If you said yes you probably referred to one of these arguments:
-the life of one person is less important than the lives of several people who might be in danger
-it’s the only way the suspect will tell authorities where the bomb is
-it’s okay as long as the authorities are doing it

However, there is no perfect knowledge. There is no way of knowing if there really is a bomb somewhere. Who should be allowed to asses the losses and benefits? How many lives justify a broken bone? How many lives for a torn out nail? How many women and children should be saved before the axe makes an appearance? In very rare occasions does torture produce truthful information, and if the person is innocent they will most likely start making up information just to get a break. Torture breaches the human dignity of the victim, as well as the torturer and everyone involved. Torture not only erodes professional ethics, it weighs on the minds of anyone who is forced to do it. And finally, torture is always prohibited; in national law, in human rights law and in humanitarian law.

My heart goes out to the victims of the events on 9/11 and their families. I hope that everyone responsible is brought to justice and punished. And I hope that everyone’s human rights are respected in the process. *


  1. That's a very nice piece, Ziva.

    9/11 was awful.

  2. Ziva, as young as you were when the 9/11 tragedy happened and the fact that you pursued studies in international human rights gives you a very unique perspective into the tragedy, albeit after the fact. You've expressed that very well and I think a lot of people would agree with you in many aspects.

    You are surely one to be reckoned with and admired.

  3. I believe Al-Qaida won. Our country is in such a shambles and now reverberates through-out the world. Travel. Profiling. Freedom. Finances. I wish I could say that we'll be fine and it will all blow over. But I doubt that very much.

  4. I am both sickened and saddened by my country's response to 9/11. I believe torture of any kind is wrong no matter how dire the situation, and I believe it's wrong (not to mention disrespectful) to burn the Koran, or to perform racial profiling. To make matters worse, the war we launched in the Middle East is bankrupting us, and as we go down, the world goes with us, because--like it or not--America is still the world's greatest economic engine.

    The deepest tragedy, however, is that what Al-Qaida accomplished was to make us more like them, and yet many of us either don't see it, or are unwilling to admit it.

    God help us all.

  5. I couldn't agree more with you!
    Torture is not human in today's world. It's barbaric.
    Fear makes us crazy and our way of thinking is not clear.
    When fear leads our actions the result can't be good.

    Media feeds our fear. But why? Aren't media just people who are working for technology to get their daily bread? Why those people want us to feel fear?
    It's all about money. One way or another. If you don't make the money, you're out.

  6. Reffie: Thank you.

    00dozo: My studies have indeed given me a deeper insight into the framework of human rights law and the effects 9/11 had on them. I just hope that more people will wake up to reality and see that justice doesn't have to come at the extremely high cost of human dignity.

    middle child: I like to think that while Al-Qaida has won for now, we, Americans and the rest of the world alike, eventually will be able to fight back without resorting to the same methods as the enemy is using.

    MikeWJ: Obama received his Nobel Peace Prize too soon, and we can only hope that he makes good on his lofty promises to work towards a more peaceful world. But his election to President was defintiely a step in the right direction. One man can't change the world, but one man can without doubt help change the attitudes that have led us to where we are now.

    BLOGitse: The media, while ideally an objective source for information, is sadly not perfect. I strongly believe that the media is not responsible for our education and therefore we should always take everything the media says with a pinch of salt. The media, while objective, is still always political in one way or the other, and will side with the own party, the own country, or the own religion. If you watch the news on Al Jazeera, the independent Arabic news channel, you'll notice that their version of the news are often very different from the American, or even European version. And I'm sad to say that more often than not, their version is the one that's less biased.

  7. Well written post. Torture doesn't produce truth just words. I've heard experts say no one can resist torture and they will say anything to make it stop.

    AFter Viet Nam, my generation, after rigorous protesting for many years, mistakenly believed we were done with war. Boy were we wrong.

  8. That was very thoughtful. My view? If we don't respect human rights we become no better than the terrorists.

  9. Very nicely written piece, Ziva. I am American, and I agree with you completely.

  10. Well stated. We, Americans, have become evil doers in our hunt for evil doers. I'd like to add: invading Iraq expanded the war on terror and is the reason Osama Bin Laden still roams free hooked up to a dialysis machine. Yeah, that's a hard target to hit.

    Watching the footage of 9/11 on the History channel was a chilling reminder of that horrible day.

  11. California Girl: I really wish you hadn't been wrong... And the awful part about torture is that it's not only used in the ticking bomb scenario, but also as a general way of intelligence gathering.

    nonamedufus: I couldn't agree more.

    Ivy: Thank you, Ivy. American, Finnish, we're all human beings in the end, aren't we?

    Lauren: They've been running documentaries and programs about 9/11 all week here as well, and even for a non-American like myself it's chilling to watch. I can't imagine the terror the people felt who were in the towers as the planes hit.

  12. Lovely, articulate and thoughtful post, Lemmikki. It often seems like we've forgotten that we are all human beings and we've allowed fear and paranoia to take over and become justifications for the unjustifiable.

  13. Very inspired questions. We won't inhabit a peaceful world until we all decide that what happens to strangers matters to us as the caring people we innately are.

  14. Nicky: Exactly. We're all human beings, except MikeWJ, who's a little special.

    Everyday Goddess: I think the difficulty lies in the fact that there are just so many people suffering in the world that it feels impossible to care about them all. Children starving, people dying of AIDS in Africa, people drowning and being forced to leave their homes in Pakistan, innocent people caught up in a war in the Middle East that was never supposed to happen in the first place. Perhaps the solution isn't to care about them all individually, but instead to care about humanity as a whole, because the way we're living today, humanity is suffering.

  15. Ziva, I completely agree that the response to 9/11 was terrible. Sending armed forces to attack Iraq was a crime. Torture is a crime, no matter what the circumstances and should be punished. Profiling Middle Eastern people and suspecting them based on their appearance or their race is ridiculous.

    Targeting Muslims is absurd. It wasn't Muslims who flew the death dealing planes, it was terrorists. (It wasn't Catholics that blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City either, it was a terrorist Irish Catholic man.)

    That said, the intelligence community not usually rely on torture to get information. It is much more likely that they rely on infiltration and much more covert methods because they are much more successful.

  16. Linda: You are absolutely right about Muslims and Catholics not being responsible for something indviduals did. And I'm sure that torture isn't used as the main way of intelligence gathering, there are far more humane ways in use, but the sad truth is that sometimes torture is used solely for intelligence gathering reasons. I think the situation has improved significantly, but even if the American government never tortured another person again, the same won't be true in the rest of the world. There is a huge danger of an "if they're doing it, we should too"-situation where the bad never stops.

  17. My husband is in the intel business. The reason they don't use "torture" is because it doesn't work. Intelligence is necessary when an enemy targets you. And done correctly, it's effective. The torture routine is not effective, but unfortunately, I know it still exists.



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