Of Georgetown Law and Abu Ghraib

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

A gathering of academics and human rights activists at Georgetown Law last week delivered some predictable broadsides at the Bush regime but also some unexpected critiques of the Clinton Administration, from which nearly half of the panelists came.

Of the seven Clinton alumni to hit the podium, more than half made the case for American relativism and brought up Abu Ghraib, frequently in the same sentence:

• President Clinton’s chief of staff, John Podesta, now a visiting law professor at Georgetown, evoked the “image of Iraqi civilians strapped with electrodes at Abu Ghraib.”

• “You don’t have to submit to the International Criminal Court (ICC) if you have a developed body of law,” Clinton-era Secretary of State Madeleine Albright claimed in arguing for U. S. inclusion in the ICC. Then, the Georgetown professor averred, “We might have a problem with Abu Ghraib and no habeas corpus.” The latter, presumably, is a right denied terrorist suspects.

• “Others may question our commitment to human rights in that we apply it to others but not to ourselves,” James Sasser, Clinton’s ambassador to China asserted.

• “If we are going to report on human rights in every country, we should make sure our own record is good on torture and interrogation,” John Shattuck, who served in the State Department in the Clinton years, said. “We should close Guantanamo and restore habeas corpus.” Shattuck is currently a senior fellow and lecturer at Tufts.

More than 300 registered for the conference, although fewer were in evidence. The conference was preceded by a video that not only brought up Abu Ghraib but also featured plummeting poll numbers on America’s approval rating abroad and quotes from former President Jimmy Carter.

1. “Since the beginning of hostilities in Afghanistan and Iraq, U. S. military and security operations have apprehended about 50,000 individuals,” the last official bipartisan commission on Abu Ghraib found. “From this number, about 300 allegations of abuse in Afghanistan, Iraq or Guantanamo have arisen.” That’s less than 1 percent in all the camps, including Abu Ghraib and Gitmo, of which, in turn, less than half held up to scrutiny.

2. Although the video points out that poll numbers on the U. S. are down from the years 1999 to 2008 in France and Germany, the film fails to mention that during that same time period, pro-American Bush allies were elected in those same countries.

3. The Jimmy Carter whose human rights pronouncement the video displays is the same president who refused to provide aid to Zimbabwe until it certified Robert Mugabe as the winner of the 1980 election there. In power ever since, Mugabe has racked up a human rights record which virtually every public figure and institution have lambasted save, notably, for the Carter Center at Emory and its founder.

As noted before, the Georgetown Law-CAP conference was something of a Clinton Administration reunion. Virtually none of the panelists worked so identifiably with any Republican presidents.

Also, as you can see, most have found comfortable academic berths Republicans can rarely depend on. Besides Albright, Podesta, Shattuck and Sasser, other panelists at the Georgetown Law symposium included:

Brian Katulis, now at CAP, formerly at State under Albright;

Eric Schwartz, executive director of the Connect US Fund, who served on the National Security Council from 1993 to 2001; and

Jennifer L. Windsor, who worked at the U. S. Agency for International Development from 1991 to 2001.

Perhaps surprisingly, Shattuck said of the current White House, “I was disappointed to see the administration back away from its characterization of China as a human rights abuser.” As we noted in an earlier dispatch, Sasser expressed similar dismay about his own Beijing sojourn in the 1990’s.

For her part, Windsor, who now heads Freedom House, was critical of the last two presidents. “The Clinton Administration was virtually silent on human rights in Egypt,” she told the audience. “The Bush Administration took a different approach in Egypt but has been virtually silent for the last two years.”

“What have they gotten for their silence?” She makes a persuasive case that the answer is, not much.

“Mubarak, who has been in office for three decades is called a democrat,” she notes wryly. Ironically, technology may do more to open up that part of the Middle East than diplomacy has.

“A call to action from a Facebook group prompted a general strike,” she informed the crowd. She too worked as an adjunct professor at Georgetown as well as for the late Democratic Senator from New York, Patrick Moynihan, widely viewed as one of the last of the anti-communist hawks in the party, not without some justification.

Mal Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.