Release of State Department cables offers little surprises
Amid the release of more than 250,000 State Department cables by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks on Nov. 28, journalists ignored the story’s most crucial elements. They focused on site founder Julian Assange, a 39-year-old Australian, facing charges of rape, sexual molestation, and unlawful coercion in Sweden.
In addition to [need something] like ‘focusing on’ but stronger Assange, media outlets have pinpointed international name-calling as newsworthy. Whether it’s accusing Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai of paranoia, likening Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev to Batman and Robin, or pegging German Chancellor Angela Merkel as “risk averse and rarely creative,” the cables offer no shortage of entertainment.
The real story that can easily be plucked from the cables is not exactly news, and that is the American government’s incessant attempts to dictate the actions of sovereign overseas nations.
The cables depict efforts by the Bush administration to thwart a German investigation into alleged CIA torture and imprisonment of Khalid El-Masri. El-Masri, a German citizen, was mistakenly identified by U.S. authorities as a terrorist affiliated with the militant Islamic group al-Qaeda.
Elsewhere, cables reveal U.S. pressure on Spain to drop investigations against U.S. officials involved with torture at Guantanamo Bay and CIA extraordinary rendition flights. Extraordinary rendition is an extrajudicial process in which U.S. authorities allegedly transfer suspects from one nation to another to proceed with torture measures.
In other cables, U.S. efforts to convince Pakistani authorities to give up highly enriched uranium are disclosed; according to the cables, the U.S. was unsurprisingly worried that terrorists could garner access to the nuclear material. Furthermore, additional cables illustrate orders to spy on United Nations diplomats, including the body’s secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and permanent Security Council representatives from China, Russia, France, and the United Kingdom.
Although the developments appeared to surprise a few members of the media, they reflect the broader concept of American exceptionalism. The theory essentially notes that regardless of the consequences, whatever actions U.S. authorities take both domestically and overseas demonstrate a commitment to ensuring American safety. Quite frankly, it does not matter if said actions are illegal, for the United States – the most powerful and wealthiest country in the world – is outside of the law’s jurisdiction and can do no wrong. Human rights are merely a figment of the far left’s imagination.
The U.S. has repeatedly ignored international law and precedent in recent years. For one, extraordinary rendition, which dates back to Bill Clinton’s presidency, is illegal. The United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, ratified by the U.S. in 1992, can effortlessly be interpreted to ban the program.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, the U.S. has tortured a plethora of suspected terrorists at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Former Vice President Dick Cheney has spent the last two years lauding “enhanced interrogation techniques,” or waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning that was used against 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed on 183 separate occasions.
Although waterboarding is not explicitly labeled as a form of torture, which the United Nations defined as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person” in 1949, it unequivocally fits the criteria. The Geneva Convention of 1949, which the U.S. signed, outlawed torture, and President Obama has specifically banned waterboarding since assuming office.
Leading up to the 2003 Iraq invasion, the U.S. and UK ignored UN weapons inspector Hans Blix; Blix, in his time in Iraq, found no traces of nuclear weapons or their development, yet the U.S. proceeded to unilaterally invade Iraq. Furthermore, Kofi Annan, former UN secretary general, stated in 2004 that the Iraq invasion was neither sanctioned by the UN Security Council nor in line with the body’s charter.
Clearly U.S. authorities have rarely permitted international law to block foreign policy objectives, regardless of whether it’s a liberal or conservative chief executive. Interfering with the criminal investigations of U.S. officials in other democratic countries should not come as a surprise to even the least avid of political followers.
At home, the leaks have been met by fervent bipartisan condemnation. “This is worse even than a physical attack on Americans; it’s worse than a military attack,” Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said, encouraging a criminal prosecution against WikiLeaks.
Last week, the Obama administration and Attorney General Eric Holder echoed such a possibility. “I want you to know that we are taking aggressive steps to hold responsible those who stole this information,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
Instead of focusing on the cables’ substance and the larger picture of criminal American actions overseas, the media and political officials have collectively muddied the picture by attacking Assange personally. Citing charges against Assange in Sweden, this task has been far from difficult to accomplish.
Again, we’re back to the black and white picture that has occupied the foreign policy landscape for decades. As with Vietnam in the 1960s or Iraq most recently, those who denounce U.S. actions overseas are un-American. You’re either for us or against us; there’s no middle ground and certainly no room for dissent.