Tuesday :: Nov 20, 2007

Bill Richardson Was Right: Human Rights Trumps National Security


by Ken Camp

During last week's debate Democratic candidates were asked if human rights are more important national security. Governor Bill Richardson answered that human rights trumped national security and took some heat from Tim Grieve at Salon.

Take a look at the Presidential oath of office:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Follow me over the fold for why Governor Bill Richardson is right.

A President makes a commitment to human rights when taking the oath of office. The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to our Constitution, are essentially a declaration of human rights. Failing to adhere to these rights, as we've seen with the Bush Administration, could lead to serious national security implications.

For example, take the Eighth Amendment, the ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Even if current international law didn't prohibit waterboarding and other forms of torture, I'd argue that the United States Constitution prohibits it under the Eighth Amendment. Sure, a strong argument can be made that the Constitution only applies to American citizens. But why do we not allow waterboarding and other forms of torture of our prisoners, yet do the opposite to people labeled "terrorists" or "enemy combatants"? Shouldn't the standard be the same? Isn't a human, a human?

My point is that when a President disregards human rights and the rule of law, he endangers national security. Because of the actions of the Bush Administration and its approval of torture, how can our soldiers not expect that they might be tortured if captured? If the United States disregards human rights, who is to stop anyone else from doing so?

Jane Smiley makes a a very similar argument over at The Huffington Post.

Human rights are defined, most notably in the U.S. Bill of Rights. They are defined because the Founding Fathers realized that if they were not defined, they would be more likely to be abrogated or lost entirely. The Founding Fathers understood the temptation on the part of governments to give and remove human rights arbitrarily, because they had experienced such things before the Revolutionary War -- in the Stamp Act, in the quartering of British soldiers on American households, and in illegal searches and seizures, in no taxation without representation. They recognized that although British Law customarily acknowledged various human rights, it was essential to name, codify, and write them down to make it less likely that they could be taken away.

Human rights are profoundly local -- they reside in individuals. According to humans rights theory, if someone is human, he or she has the same rights as every other human. The rights of American citizens as described in the Bill of Rights have been expanded and extrapolated around the world so that they apply not only to us but to everyone. While in the U.S. this idea is a bit controversial, in other countries it is standard, accepted, and cherished. The codification of human rights, and the widespread acknowledgment of this, is one of the things that makes the modern world modern. To roll back human rights, even for some individuals, is to return to a more primitive, hierarchical, and un-American theory of human relations.[emphasis mine]

Governor Bill Richardson is right that human rights are more important than national security, because if we do not adhere to internationally accepted tenets of human rights, we can expect to have no national security. When you treat people and nations with decency and respect, by using diplomacy instead of the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war and torture, and adhere to the rule of law as Bill Richardson has done in his lengthy diplomatic career, you promote national security.

Ken Camp :: 11:00 AM :: Comments (12) :: Digg It!