The Post: U.S. must demand accountability for due process and torture abuses -- in Iran

This would be an excellent way to create a jovial climate for negotiations: provoke a group laughing fit.

Published September 16, 2009 12:17PM (EDT)

(updated below)

I'm asking this sincerely, not rhetorically:  is there anything other than extreme self-delusion, grounded in blinding self-regard (i.e., self-decreed exceptionalism), that can explain this?  The Washington Post Editorial Page today is demanding that the Obama administration's negotiations with Iran include not only efforts to curb their nuclear program but also:   "at least one other item should be on the agenda: the government's recent repression of domestic opposition, and in particular its prosecution of Western citizens."  Here's what they specifically have in mind:

One way to avoid this pitfall is for the United States to insist on discussing the human rights issues raised by the show trials. The obvious lack of due process for leading regime opponents contravenes international human rights standards that Iran claims to respect.

So we're supposed to roll into these negotiations righteously complaining about Iran's "obvious lack of due process."  For the last eight years and counting, we've been imprisoning tens of thousands of Muslims around the world with no charges of any kind.  Keeping people who have never been charged with any crime shackled in orange jumpsuits and locked in cages for years on a Cuban island has become our national symbol.  Just yesterday, the Obama administration demanded that a court rule it has the power to abduct people anywhere in the world, ship them to Afghanistan, and keep them indefinitely imprisoned there with no trial of any kind -- which is exactly what we've been doing for years and still are (in a dank and nasty prison which happens to be right over Iran's Eastern border).  Our current President just recently advocated and is currently devising a scheme of so-called "preventive detention" whereby he'd be empowered to lock up people indefinitely for crimes they might commit in the future.  We continue to abduct people from all over the world and ship them to third-party countries for interrogation and detention ("renditions") without any pretense of due process.  And right over Iran's own Western border, we not only continue to occupy Iraq, but maintain prisons in which thousands of people are imprisoned by our military without any charges of any kind -- including an Iraqi journalist who works for Reuters who was ordered released by an Iraqi court yet continues to languish in an American prison in Iraq, merely one of numerous foreign journalists we imprisoned for years, in Iraq and elsewhere, with no charges at all.

But The Washington Post thinks the U.S. should vigorously object to Iran's "obvious lack of due process" as a central part of these negotiations.  What would be the purpose of doing that?  Creating a jovial mood for the negotiations at the outset by provoking a massive group laughing fit?

But due process denials aren't the only Iranian "human rights" violations The Post wants the Obama administration to raise in these negotiations.  No, there's more Iranian evil for us to protest:

The cases of torture and rape of prisoners courageously documented by opposition presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi should be as worthy of discussion as the non-nuclear subjects that Iran wants to bring up.

I wonder what we should specifically say about that?  Should we demand prosecutions for the Iranian officials responsible for the abuses?  What would we say if the Iranians replied that they are facing serious economic issues (as they are) and can't be distracted with such divisive fights, that they don't want to criminalize policy differences, that they want to heal their internal tensions rather than inflame them with divisive investigations, and that they want to look forward, not backward by re-litigating past conflicts?  Or maybe we should demand that Iran allow the torture victims to sue in court to obtain compensation and compelled disclosure of what was done to them?  What would we say if the Iranians replied that how they run their prison system and how they formulated responses to internal rebellions are state secrets which cannot be revealed by courts without jeopardizing their security and that, under Iranian law, government officials enjoy immunity for any official acts they ordered, even if those acts constitute severe human rights violations?  Or maybe the Iranians can produce some internal memos from some of their lawyer-underlings which conclude that the threats posed to their security by these street protests -- as well as the threats of attack coming from more powerful, nuclear-armed countries -- justified the harsh techniques that were used on prisoners (they could even cite a Washington Post Editorial in support of that immunity theory).  What would we say about that?

I don't think this is a case of conscious exceptionalism-based double standards.  I think The Washington Post Editors have brains which tell them that the U.S. continues to be the world's leader in human rights, due process, and accountability for abuses, and that it's perfectly natural that we would go around demanding reform from other nations in these areas and do so with moral credibility.  As bizarre as it is, that really seems to be the mental world they occupy.  And they're far from alone there.

* * * * * 

On a mostly unrelated noteThe Atlantic has a new ranking of "the 50 most influential commentators in the nation, the columnists and bloggers and broadcast pundits who shape the national debates," which it claims it derived through a rigorous data-based methodology.  It's a good argument for how the Internet has democratized and diversified punditry, as numerous individuals on the list have blogging as their principal platform.


UPDATE:  In case you were wondering:  The Washington Post which today insists that the U.S. demand accountability for Iran's torture abuses is, indeed, the same newspaper that put this on its front page in June:

That was right around the time they fired their columnist who wrote most frequently and emphatically about the need for accountability for torturers, while continuing to promote their columnist who explicitly advocates torture (when perpetrated by Us, not by Them).  Let's hope Iranian leaders don't read The Washington Post, otherwise they'll be well-armed with arguments justifying virtually everything they do.

By Glenn Greenwald

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