Book Review: Challenging U.S. Human Rights Violations Since 911

Challenging U.S. Human Rights Violations Since 911

Edited by Ann Fagan Ginger
NY, Prometheus Books, 2005
524 pages, $24

Order at the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute website, www.mcli.org, or ask your bookseller to carry the book.

Want to help your city report human rights violations to the UN? This books shows you how.

Challenging US Human Rights Violations Since 911 is a shocking chronicle of rights violations that have been perpetrated by the United States, in your name, since 911. Ann Fagan Ginger catalogs these violations, but also demonstrates for us that resistance is not futile, and tells us how to resist. Challenging will challenge the reader to question deeply the real aims of the Bush administration.

Informed people know that immigrants have been detained without warrant for months and years on end, and have been beaten, tortured, and died at the hands of the representatives of the United States government for no other reason than their country of origin. They also know that these unspeakable acts violate the U. S. Constitution and the international treaties that we have ratified. Ratified treaties do not represent some vague promise to comply with the terms of the treaty. Rather, they are the highest law of the land, in equal standing with the Constitution. How do we know that? The Constitution says so, in Article 4. In theory, most Americans agree with the aims of these treaties. After all, this is what liberty really means: the ability to walk the streets without having to carry identification papers or suffer illegitimate abuse simply because of how they look, and the right to express their views.

The terrible harms visited upon immigrants may fail to move certain readers. Shame on them. That logic is akin to saying that when a bank is robbed, it was asking for it. Just as disturbing and more numerous are the many violations visited upon American citizens. A man born an American citizen was demoted from his position in the former Immigration and Naturalization Service in 2002 because he was of Lebanese extraction. When he filed a formal complaint, he was accused of having ties to terrorists. He filed suit and prevailed in court. Such denials of basic human rights and dignity are also very expensive for US taxpayers. He won a judgment of $305,000.00.

Ginger states that her explicit goal in writing this book is to mobilize shame. The mobilization of shame is a recurring phenomenon in our history, and leads to temporary improvements in conditions for the victim du jour and related groups. One need only look to recent history for examples of this mobilization. The Geneva Convention was developed in the aftermath of World War II, when the inhumane and deadly treatment of prisoners of war became public. World governments supposedly renounced genocide in the wake of the Holocaust. The House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC), headed by the infamous Republican senator Joseph McCarthy, Jr., was dismantled and its aims discredited when decent Americans discovered that the targets of the committee were not a threat to anyone. Lives were destroyed in the quest to induce fear and control political expression by unconstitutional means.

It is time to mobilize shame again. This alarming yet ultimately hopeful book, read widely, should do the job. The reader will find clear and direct prose, unburdened by jargon, full of talking points.

The nearly 300 pages of reports of violations are just one aspect of this multifaceted work. Challenging provides the text of the laws violated, copious notes, and exhaustive documentation that should wear down the wall of ignorance built by the most dedicated know-nothing.

Challenging also contains a grassroots human rights advocate toolkit. Ginger’s forty-year-long dedication to framing issues in terms of the ratified treaties as well as US Constitutional Law provides a solid legal background for communities to engage their local governments in a dialog with the highest levels of US and UN governmental bodies. The United States has an obligation under the treaties it has ratified. It must submit reports on the state of human rights as stated in the UN Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Convention Against Torture, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Bush administration has issued exactly zero requests to states for these reports. However, that does not mean that we cannot report on our own initiative.

The City of Berkeley recently took matters into its own hands, at the behest of the community members, and now submits an annual report of the condition of human rights in the city to the United States and the UN. You can do it too. Challenging shows you how.

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