It was heartwarming to see so many right-wing Republicans jump to defend the concept of human rights and civil liberties yesterday. I'm speaking of their condemnation of the president's new policy on Cuba, in case you were startled by that bizarre comment. But it's true. Even before the details were released outlining the terms of a diplomatic thaw after 50 long years of isolation, they were screeching in opposition to the deal on the basis of Cuba's human rights record.
Marco Rubio was nearly frothing at the mouth he was so angry, telling anyone who would listen (meaning every cable news network) that any recognition of the Castro regime would legitimize the abuses it has perpetrated against people it considered enemies of the state. Jeb Bush hurriedly put out a statement declaring that he was very much against rewarding "the heinous Castro brothers who have oppressed the Cuban people for decades" although he was very much for releasing Americans prisoners on Hanukkah. Lindsey Graham was hopping mad as usual, tweeting furiously that he would do everything in his power to block funding, calling the policy "an incredibly bad idea." And Ted Cruz minced no words about the new policy when he said "their government can continue to detain individuals like Alan Gross indefinitely without process --- as the many political prisoners still languishing in Castro's prisons can attest."
Rubio was especially exercised, as one might expect of the son of Cuban refugees. (Unfortunately, Rubio isn't actually the son of Cuban refugees, he just plays one in American politics -- his father emigrated long before Fidel Castro was a playah.) Still, his role as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Western Affairs is that of a conservative Cuban human rights advocate and he went all out explaining why even after more than 50 years, the U.S. policy is bound to start working any day. It's a matter of American moral leadership, you see:
The Cuban people — like all those oppressed around the world — they look to America to stand up for these rights, to live up to our commitment to the God-given right of every person, to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness."
These were very stirring words to be sure. But you have to wonder if any of these people have the slightest bit of self-awareness. Do they have any idea how hollow their words sound when just a week ago they were condemning our own government for releasing a report that documented America's own human rights abuses? It's absolutely true that the most notorious prison camp on the planet is in Cuba --- but it's run by the U.S. government. Guantánamo Bay is still open for business and its practices are still condemned the world over for its mistreatment of prisoners. And Ted Cruz's lugubrious hand-wringing over the Cuban government holding people without due process would certainly be a lot more convincing if Americans hadn't been holding innocent people for years in Cuba with no hope of ever leaving.
To think that just last week the man who is preaching today about America's commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was exhorting us all to thank the people who used torture techniques like "rectal feeding" on prisoners in American custody:
And last week Ted Cruz was adamant that torture was a bad thing to do but declared it was even worse to admit it. Jeb Bush hasn't weighed in on the torture report but it can safely be assumed that he's not going to condemn his brother's administration as a bunch of torturers. Graham is well known for talking out of both sides of his mouth on these issues by "condemning torture" while screeching that American citizens should be held as enemy combatants and denied constitutional rights if they are suspected of terrorism.
The Senate torture report was limited to the CIA black sites around the world. It didn't discuss Guantánamo but there is plenty of evidence that's been revealed in the press about the torture techniques that were employed there. Here's just one example from a New York Times report in 2005:
F.B.I. agents wrote in memorandums that were never meant to be disclosed publicly that they had seen female interrogators forcibly squeeze male prisoners' genitals, and that they had witnessed other detainees stripped and shackled low to the floor for many hours.
The current forced feeding program for hunger strikers is widely seen by human rights activists as a torture tactic and lawsuits here in the U.S. are currently wending their way through the system.
President Obama tried to close Guantánamo and was rebuffed by the Congress. This was partially because the American people have been bamboozled into believing that the prisoners there are super-villains endowed with preternatural powers beyond anything normal humans possess. They're very frightened. But it's also clear that the government believes it would be inconvenient to lose the prison camp that holds all these secrets. And anyway, as Dick Cheney put it a few years back:
"They're living in the tropics. They're well fed. They've got everything they could possibly want."
Fidel Castro couldn't have said it better himself.
None of this is to say that Castro's Cuba has been a bastion of freedom and human rights. Obviously it has not been. But Americans sound like idiots when they go around talking about abuse of prisoners in Cuba as if Guantánamo doesn't exist. According to the polls, a majority of Americans are fine with all this and that's their privilege. But when you endorse torture, the least you can do is have enough shame not to sanctimoniously lecture others about morality and high ideals of civilized behavior.