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The United States as a standard bearer for human rights?

One of the more thought-provoking articles Berkshire has published recently is Jeremy Bendik-Keymer’s piece on human rights in the third volume of Global Perspectives on the United States. Here are a few paragraphs and a link to the article itself.

An increasingly common perception is that the United States obstructs or undermines the consistent spread of human rights in the world. In fact, the human rights movement has long known that the United “States supports human rights violations, often covering its actions only enough to appear just. The United States supports human rights violations because such rights limit U.S. power internationally. There are two ways by which human rights limit such power.

First, human rights limit national power. Since the Cold War the United States has supported dictatorial regimes, including regimes with policies of arbitrary imprisonment, torture, or widespread state assassination. The United States did so during the Cold War in order to oppose the spread of communism, for instance, in Central America. The United States does so today in order to maintain its interests in a region, for instance the Middle East. The United States also commits its own violations. It has an official policy of torture, for instance, in Afghanistan, as well as an unofficial policy, as witnessed in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq (2003), where psychological humiliation tactics developed at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, holding facility were taught to military police. The thread running through these examples is that the United States has supported human rights abuse for the sake of geopolitical control. Having to support human rights might limit U.S. power by making dictators or torturers illegitimate geopolitical players.

Second, human rights limit capitalism. The United States has severe tensions between its moral and legal identity and its actual policies, between its youth culture and its actual practices, and within media representations themselves. These tensions are reflected in criticism of the United States globally. If one wanted to unify this criticism, one might say simply that the global perspective on the United States regarding human rights is that the United States is laudable for its idealism but not for its reality as an international political agent.

From “Human Rights” by Jeremy Bendik-Keymer.

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