CAP’s Constitutional Treasure Hunt

, Alana Goodman, Leave a comment

During a panel discussion on domestic human rights at the Center for American Progress (CAP) on June 17th, audience members learned that they had quite a few inalienable rights that they might have missed in the U.S. Constitution. The evidence that supports those claims is even less tangible.

Among these endowments were the right to health care, the right to housing, the right to food, the right to marry, the right to privacy, reproductive rights, the right to be free from torture, the right to education, the right to not be discriminated against, the right to “community organize,” as well as the right to enjoy scientific progress.

Panelists argued that the United States government has still not provided its citizens with these alleged “natural rights,” with disastrous consequences for our foreign and domestic policy. “Meeting basic human needs is not just a good idea,” contended William F. Schulz, a senior fellow at CAP. “It is a matter of national and economic security.”

The U.S. government’s omission of these rights has led to “profound damage to the U.S.’s global reputation, as well as foreign policy goals,” continued Schulz.
He cited human rights violations as a “prime recruiting tool for al Qaeda” and a barrier to “find[ing] healthy, educationally qualified recruits for an all-volunteer [U.S.] army.”

However, evidence shows that al Qaeda has actually been weakened since the war on terror began, and recent data shows that military recruitment in the U.S. has been increasing. According to U.S. News and World Report, all U.S. military branches either met or exceeded their recruiting goals since last Fall, and Sky News reported that “Al Qaeda has been severely weakened in Afghanistan since US-led forces toppled their Taliban hosts in response to the terror attacks on September 11, 2001.”

Moreover, ascertaining what al Qaeda does or doesn’t use as “recruiting tools,” an exercise that both social-issue-conservatives and the left engage in, is a bit hard to determine with the surfeit of Arabic linguists in the CIA. “In 2007 and 2008, al-Qa‘ida’s physical safehaven in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area provided the group the physical—and psychological—space to meet, train, expand its networks, and prepare new attacks,” the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) reports in its 2009 calendar. Nevertheless, the NCTC goes on to note that “The death in January 2008 of Abu Layth al-Libi, al-Qa‘ida’s senior military commander and a key link between al-Qa‘ida and its affiliates in North Africa, was the most serious blow to the group’s top leadership since December 2005.”

The NCTC was established by President Bush in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks upon the United States. Back at CAP, Schulz adamantly insisted that the government will not be required to hand out things like housing “willy-nilly” to everyone but averred that “governments are required to structure access to basic human needs—food, clothing, housing, work, healthcare—through public and private services, in ways that make them available to everyone regardless of their economic capacity.”

Laura Murphy, D.C. Strategist for the Campaign for a New Domestic Human Rights Agenda, argued that “an overwhelming majority of Americans want stronger human rights,” citing data from a survey commissioned by the Opportunity Agenda, which asserted that “83% of Americans strongly believe that freedom from discrimination should be considered a human right” and “72% of Americans strongly believe access to health care should be considered a human right” in the U.S.

The panelists also spoke out against hate crimes. Wade Henderson, President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, noted that “hate crimes [against African Americans] spiked after Obama’s election.” That would be hard to ascertain as the FBI, the main official source of such data, has not compiled statistics on race-based violence that go beyond 2007.

Henderson also accused former Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-Colorado), a prominent opponent of illegal immigration, of “contribut[ing] to a climate where hate crimes flourish.” As we have reported, emotional climate is more difficult to predict than physical weather but the vandalism and violence directed at Tancredo in at least one of his college lectures was very real.

Alana Goodman is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.