By Dana Gallaty, Security with Human Rights Action Network
It is concerning, though unsurprising, that some U.S. lawmakers’ and politicians’ initial reactions to the horrific attacks in Paris earlier this month were to respond to one set of human rights abuses by threatening another.
Last month, Donald Trump suggested American Muslims should be tracked and forced to carry identification cards denoting their religious beliefs. That statement—and the din of anti-Muslim fear-mongering on mainstream media right now— echo the anti-Semitism that preceded atrocities committed during World War II against Jews in Europe.
But Trump’s anti-Muslim remarks are not the only problem. Obama administration officials such as John Brennan have tried to leverage the Paris attacks to gain support for expanded surveillance powers. Political and media figures have argued that the Paris attacks should put an end to efforts to close Guantanamo, despite the 107 individuals who remain there—most held without charge for more than a decade.
The common message is this: For the sake of security, the human rights of some people—and maybe of all people—will have to be sacrificed.
We’ve seen this before, in the weeks and months after the 9/11 attacks, when political figures used fear of another attack to justify opening the Guantanamo detention site and, unknown to the public at that time, an unprecedented program of U.S. secret detention and torture.
What was clear then is all the more clear now: When the U.S., a self-proclaimed champion of human rights, violates the international human rights laws it has vowed to promote, it is not only unlawful – it makes for a loud rallying cry for groups such as Al Qaeda and the armed group calling itself the Islamic State.
What’s more: Denying human rights and dignity in the name of the greater good—as many have been proposing the U.S. do when it comes to American Muslims– is the same rationale employed by the armed groups that claimed responsibility for the attacks in Beirut, Bamako, and Paris.
Times like these are critical ones for us as activists and proponents of human rights. We should continue to demand the U.S. government ensure security with human rights:
- Close Guantanamo without delay and immediately release or hold fair trials for all prisoners currently being held.
- End the impunity granted to government officials and CIA operatives that defied international law by torturing detainees.
- Protect privacy, celebrate dissent and end unlawful surveillance programs.
The U.S. government must reject the false notion that ubiquitous surveillance and unlawful coercive practices are symbiotic with the safety and protection of the nation. Allowing blame and fear to supersede human rights would betray U.S. values. Instead, let the deplorable acts of terrorism further cement and confirm the freedoms and belief in equality that the U.S. was in many ways founded upon.