The Foreign Service Journal, December 2004

48 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / D E C E M B E R 2 0 0 4 ersuading foreign countries to embrace American concepts of human rights is always hard work. But the task becomes even more challenging whenever America’s own record comes under fire — as it did this past spring following the rev- elations of widespread mistreatment of Iraqi detainees by U.S. soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad in 2003 and 2004. While shocking, the abuses at Abu Ghraib (and, report- edly, at U.S. detention centers in Afghanistan and Cuba) actually paled in comparison with previous examples of American wrongdoing in wartime. For example, U.S. sol- diers killed as many as 500 unarmed civilians in the village of My Lai in March 1968 during the Vietnam War. Abu Ghraib differed from all other incidents because the misdeeds were there for all to see — pictures of mostly young U.S. troops engaging in what President Bush has called “disgraceful” behavior. Into the world’s remotest cor- ners the vulgar images were flashed via TV screens, the Internet and other media. The scandal made it more difficult for the administra- tion to garner support for its Iraq policy. And it hardly fit with the American self-image as the peerless leader in the promotion of human rights worldwide. Complicating matters for the administration was the revelation that Bush had signed a declaration in 2002 asserting that the U.S. had the authority to ignore international rules for treatment of captives. In response, Bush insisted he has issued no directives authorizing the torture or mistreat- ment of Iraqi prisoners. Damage Control Abu Ghraib posed a special challenge for Lorne Craner, who headed the State Department’s human rights bureau from early 2001 until this past August. In the immediate aftermath of the scandal, Craner privately wondered whether his bureau would survive its impact. “I have been particularly appalled,” he told a July hearing of a House International Relations subcommittee, summing up his per- sonal reaction to the revelations. One of Craner’s top aides concurred, saying it was a “dark day” for the bureau when the scandal first came to light. “We were as disconsolate as you can imagine.” People asked: “How hard is this going to make what we’re trying to do?” Secretary of State Colin Powell, Craner and other offi- cials consistently maintained that the best way for the U.S. to regain the moral high ground would be to bring to justice those responsible for the abuses, just as Washington regu- larly demands that other governments hold their officials accountable for misconduct. Several soldiers have already been convicted and sentenced, with more scheduled for trial. But just how high up the military chain of command blame would rise was still in doubt as of November. The principal product of Craner’s former bureau, offi- cially known as the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, is an annual report on rights conditions world- wide. The report runs almost a million words and covers more than 190 countries and territories. Such a project could only be undertaken by a country with vast informa- tion-gathering resources and a high degree of confidence about the virtue of its own human rights practices. There is no better source for comprehensive informa- tion about torture of prisoners than this report. For instance, the section on China in this year’s edition con- tains 37 separate references to torture in that country. The A FTER A BU G HRAIB : T HE U.S. H UMAN R IGHTS A GENDA T HERE IS NO QUESTION THAT THE PRISONER ABUSE SCANDAL HURT A MERICA ’ S REPUTATION . B UT THE B USH ADMINISTRATION HAS PUSHED FORWARD WITH EFFORTS TO EXPAND THE U.S. HUMAN RIGHTS AGENDA , AND ENJOYED SOME SUCCESSES . B Y G EORGE G EDDA George Gedda, a frequent contributor to the Journal , is the State Department reporter for the Associated Press. P