Human Rights in the USA 29

The Obama administration has, rightly, been paying at least lip service to the primary of international law in the limitation of military action in Libya to conform with the provisions of SCR 1973.

Here is a still more fundamental piece of international law – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948. It is in itself a high point of human achievement, and it is worth reading from time to time. Consider this in particular:

Article 23.
(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

In directly contravenng Clause 4 of Article 23, the government of Wisconsin is not only attacking its own workforce, it is attacking the very essence of human dignity and the achievement of ordinary people in obtaining a right to it. There is no doubt that in the second half of the twentieth century labour unions grew into over-centralised, undemocratic and corrupt institutions. Those evils can be regulated away. But removing the right of individual workers to combine to negotiate the price of thier labour is a much greater evil.

It was possible for liberals to believe – I believed it – thirty years ago that capitalism as a system naturally ameliorates and moves everybody towards the middle class, reducing extremes of wealth and poverty as capitalism matured. But since then, the gap between the very wealthy and the ordinary working man has increased exponentially. Those providing financial and other middleman servies are disproportionately rewarded, and those who labour to manufacture or provide physical services are increasingly impoverished, abused and unprotected. The public services are one of the few areas where rapacious neo-liberal practices of exploiting, abusing and discarding labour still met any, though reducing, resistance. The propaganda against human rights in Wisconsin has, as as one of its more evil elements, an appeal to those already abased, to drag down those who can to some extent be portrayed as having to some extent escaped.

But it would be quite wrong to portray this attack as led just by the Republicans. Obama has notably refused to do anything to counter the wave of hatred towards employees, organised and financed by corporate America. Obama himself is notably failing in his duty to live up to the following paragraph of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

The degrading treatment of suspected whistleblower Bradley Manning is a further example of US contempt for human rights – as is what happens to those who seek to protest about it. I was struck to see this picture of my friend Dan Ellsberg flash up on Sky News.

A couple of weeks ago, while this blog was down for remont, another of my friends, Ray McGovern, was arrested for the new crime of wearing a Veterans for Peace T shirt at a Hillary Clinton meeting. She was talking at the time, with no apparent sense of irony, about the right to protest in the Middle East. Just before the camera cuts to Ray, you can see her smirk as she sees him manhandled.

The next time I share a platform with Ray and Dan, I shall feel that they have been paying their dues for freedom more than I. But I have an excuse for not getting arrested. I have been most of the time in Ghana, which respects human rights, whereas they are in the United States, which does not.

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29 thoughts on “Human Rights in the USA

  • rockitboy

    The growing prevalence of protest and the corresponding increase in heavy-handed 'law' enforcement is a measure of how far Anglo-US political culture has slipped towards overt authoritarianism. When propaganda/PR is no longer capable of damping down the fires of outrage, the iron fist emerges from the shadows. Bradley Manning's durance vile to me illustrates two things, the military-industrial establishment's deep-seated fear and hatred of dissidents, and their love of sado-theatre – 'Look what we can do to this guy, and no-one can stop us, not even the president! Now, just think what we could do to you if we were so inclined…'

    It almost seems as if there are two governments in America, a civilian one and the Pentagon one – that would explain how the military is able to get away so much egregious bullshit.

    • Craig_Murray

      Thanks, Clark, I'll look at it, although it is part of a nexus of development and education issues in the North which need to be treated holistically. I do support some development programmes there and am trying to spend more time in that part of the country.

  • Doug Scorgie

    And the UK is no better. At the Labour 2005 conference, I'm sure you remember Walter Wolfgang being man-handled (assaulted) out of the room by security gaurds then arrested by the police under the Terrorism Act: for saying "nonsense!" as Jack Straw spoke.

  • Courtenay Barnett

    Craig – if you really consider applying your excellent mind for history:-

    1. Columbus lands and starts genocide in the Americas.
    2. Britain, as a naval power, projects power into the world and conquers lands around the globe.
    3. The Atlantic Slave Trade is funded by Britain, ships are supplied, ventures of kidnapping and enslavement are advanced, labour is used for centuries under the most horrendous conditions of abuse of human dignity.
    4. The spoils and benefits of this system are then accumulated over centuries and the rules of the international trade game in modern times are skewed such that the advance of the former colonies remains a global struggle for justice, human rights and dignity.

  • Courtenay Barnett

    How – over the next 500 years – under a system like this, based as it is, on one section of the world plundering the other for resources (consider the war in Afghanistan and the building of the oil p;ipelene there; the illegal invasion of Iraq; the cynical manipulation of resolution 1973 and the advancing war in Libya) that under conditions of imperial wars launched, unfair trade terms, the projection of geopolitical strategies for global hegemony – can the world ever operate under such a system for the welfare of the majority of humanity?

  • spectral

    Farrakhan Shreds Obama: "Who the Hell Do You Think You Are?"

    I watched yesterday the video from this guy on Youtube, and today it's removed.
    While I never watched that guy but he is making valid points.

  • Clark

    When I heard that Bradley Manning held dual British/US nationality, I wrote to my MP. He contacted Foreign Secretary Alistair Birt, whose reply indicates a complete lack of concern: "We consider that conditions in US prisons generally meet international standards. Solitary confinement is a procedure used in many countries and is deemed to offer protection both to the inmate and those around them". He neglects to mention the deliberate disruption of PFC Manning's sleep, or that he has repeatedly been made to stand naked in the presence of prison staff and officers.

  • Deep green puddock.

    The video of the manhandling is very chilling.

    One of the curiosities which I have observed over the years, of all failing human activity systems -whether a school, quilt making club, or a football team, or a government, is that they become "stupid' and 'haunted' and clumsy as they fall into failure. The smirk was very 'clumsy' -a very poor 'move'.
    Man handling and imprisoning Ray McGovern was also just plain unimaginative and stupid.

    I have seen it so often- the 'head' is questioned or talked back to at meetings-but if the head is in control, virtuous and confident he or she will tolerate backchat and even heckling, and will respond with moderation. On the other hand, when he or she is failing, they become defensive and 'stupid'. They begin to seek to 'discipline' or apply petty inconveniences to individuals, or become spiteful.

    We see that in this video. The smart move by Clinton would have been to prevent or iintervene in the physicality-it would have shown her authority and confidence. To stand there and watch/smirk at such blatant bullying reveals just exactly where she herself stands and how she 'feels'. She is insecure and aware of her inconsistency. ( She is not really stupid of course-she is 'behaving stupid'.

    I think it is an ominous sign that 'clever' people like Clinton and Obama are being stupid.

  • numb3rstation

    Clark re: Bradley Manning & Solitary Confinement.

    Dickens was on the button over 160 years ago: "I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain, to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body: and because its ghastly signs and tokens are not so palpable to the eye and sense of touch as scars upon the flesh; because its wounds are not upon the surface, and it extorts few cries that human ears can hear; therefore I the more denounce it, as a secret punishment which slumbering humanity is not roused up to stay. I hesitated once, debating with myself, whether, if I had the power of saying 'Yes' or 'No,' I would allow it to be tried in certain cases, where the terms of imprisonment were short; but now, I solemnly declare, that with no rewards or honours could I walk a happy man beneath the open sky by day, or lie me down upon my bed at night, with the consciousness that one human creature, for any length of time, no matter what, lay suffering this unknown punishment in his silent cell, and I the cause, or I consenting to it in the least degree."

  • JimmyGiro

    The Nomenklatura will always expose itself in public, as long as heroes like Ray McGovern and Walter Wolfgang exist. The more pandered are these elites, the more precious they perceive themselves, until all criticism, fair or foul, is regarded as blasphemy, and treated with the contempt as of the Untermensch.

    I suspect it happens similarly up and down the country with local dignitaries, acting out their pontifications on the under-class of their petty realms. For example, somebody in a flat near me was being carried out by the authorities, sometime last year, and I asked the uniformed Bobby what was happening; and he replied that the man had died in his sleep… nothing suspicious.

    The local press had nothing of the event, oddly, as it is the kind of local rag that specialises in 'man bites dog' stories. So I phoned my brother-in-law, who still has contacts with the police, and he reported back that the man was well known as a beggar and drunkard, and as he put it, won't be missed.

    A year later, I'm chatting to an old school-friend, whose brother took over that flat, and his brother complained that the housing association hadn't cleaned all the blood off the walls and ceiling before he moved in!

    Whether it was foul play, or just a very frenetic suicide, the deceased had effectively in the eyes of the authorities, become a non-person, albeit with a name and an address.

  • glenn_uk

    With regard to Article 23 subsection 4 :

    (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

    … it's a bit of a shame that Amnesty International has decided to go for union bashing too:

    Only outside Europe of course, because those pesky European laws prohibit union-bashing to the extent AI would like. I write this as a member of AI, rather surprised at the direction management is taking these days. The last Secretary of AI (Irene Khan) left with a payoff of over 1/2 million pounds when her term ended (largely due to questionable decisions she'd made). Her deputy also trousered some £350,000 payoff at the same time.

  • evgueni

    "It was possible for liberals to believe … thirty years ago that capitalism as a system naturally ameliorates and moves everybody towards the middle class, reducing extremes of wealth and poverty as capitalism matured." – What a strange belief that was. For a start one must be innumerate to entertain such a notion. Here are some compelling reasons why this could never be the case:
    1. the inescapable logic of privately created credit (debt-based money supply) through the fractional reserve banking mechanism
    2. the sacred right enshrined in law under capitalism to privatise rents from land and natural resources therein
    3. consider the investing classes, in effect they are playing with dice that are loaded in their favour. Everyone is playing the same game, only some use $10 chips, others $1k chips and others still $10k chips. Which ones will accumulate winnings the fastest on average?
    4. etc, most notably corruption which is a function of available funds

    What really does reduce extremes of wealth and poverty is democracy. Not to be confused with capitalism!

    • JimmyGiro

      There is no mechanism that would stop a democracy voting for its own subjugation.

      Most state controlled fascist regimes, began as popular uprisings; given the vote, those responsible would have voted for German, Russian, Chinese, Kampuchean, etc, socialist states.

      In a state controlled economy, even in a partially state controlled economy, such as ours, those Nomenklatura in the bureaucracies, can never lose their $10k chips. But in a free capitalist society, they would be vulnerable to loss, like the rest of us, thus allowing the dissipation of capital to the nation; hence, increasing the opportunity for individuals to increase their own vested interest in the nation as a whole, both financially and politically.

      Democracy without a free market economy must therefore be unstable, simply due to the fact that people are motivated by their own freedom first and foremost.

      The corollary to this is that poverty robs people of their freedom to function, therefore given the vote, they will vote for your money, and in so doing, elect a state that controls them just as tyrannically as poverty did. The state Nomenklatura can maintain this tyranny by simply maintaining via indenture, a large economically dependent under-class, which becomes effectively their 'democratic' client state.

      Methods used to create the client state:

      (i) Destroy male employability; c.f. Harriet Harman's 'equality' bill, making white men a last choice for employers, if they want state contracts.

      (ii) Destroy the fathers rights within his family; c.f. secret family courts, to dispose of without fair trial.

      (iii) Destroy education; the single liberating benefit that the state could have bestowed, has chosen to dumb-down all standards, especially the aspirations of boys, sometimes even physically, with approximately 1,000,000 boys being prescribed Ritalin.

      (iv) Destroy sense of nation; the open doors policy for immigrants was specifically designed to undermine the culture, as admitted to by Andrew Neather.

      (v) Equality of outcomes (except for males of course); by making misandry compulsory, and misogyny illegal.

      If men are not economically free from the state, they have lost their vested interest in that nation. And a nation with no free men, will never be a democracy worth preserving.

      • evgueni

        Please excuse my impatience but such patent nonsense deserves the most robust of replies. I hear it all the time from people who have never stopped to think for more than a minute what the term democracy really means. It is a reflexive response programmed into the population by the propaganda myths spouted in the media every day, the main thrust of these being that the people cannot be trusted to know what's best for them:

        "There is no mechanism that would stop a democracy voting for its own subjugation. "

        The most advanced form of democracy to date is the Swiss Confederation in which ultimate power rests with the people in practice rather than in worthless proclamations only. Please note that at any point during the last 150 years the Swiss could have voted against their interests. If you care to investigate the voting record you will find that they have consistently resisted attempts to roll back democracy and have succeeded in strengthening the institutions of direct democracy.

        ".. in a free capitalist society, they would be vulnerable to loss, like the rest of us, thus allowing the dissipation of capital to the nation" – you are perpetuating the same innumerate argument here. The chances of a loss are not even, just look a the long-term stock market chart. Even if you could guarantee that given long enough all family fortunes will be lost, this is not inconsistent with the conclusion that capitalism perpetuates and amplifies inequality.

        Democracy and free markets are not mutually exclusive, again as demonstrated amply by the Swiss experience. It is also relevant to mention that the Swiss economy is amongst the most successful in the world and that recent research in Switzerland has shown that direct democracy is beneficial to business and does not impede competitiveness as argued by the elite interests.

        Finally consider this – the Swiss are one of the most heavily militarised nations yet they do not get involved in foreign wars of aggression ever.

        • JimmyGiro

          evgueni wrote:

          "…the people cannot be trusted to know what's best for them…"

          On the contrary, that is exactly the opposite of my comment. People must be trusted to know what's best for them, which in turn requires freedom to own private property and wealth, via capitalism.

          Only with the freedom from the state, will a citizen have sufficient vested interest to support democratically the contract between the individual and their nation state. Without total economic freedom, the citizenry will become entrapped by the state bureaucracy; which can ultimately control whether the citizen eats or starves.

          And if people are frightened enough, thanks to their poor 'state education', then they can be persuaded to vote away their own freedom, for a mess of potage.

          So I reiterate: There is no mechanism within democracy that safeguards the freedom required for democracy, there is only the motive of the citizen; and that motive is the vested interest inherent with owning the fruits of their labour; i.e. capitalism.

          • evgueni


            1. Please refrain in future from quoting out of context. My post made it clear that I was extrapolating from your own words i.e. "there is no mechanism that would stop a democracy voting for its own subjugation. "

            2. I don't think that you have addressed my argument so here it goes again. I think your imagination is inhibited by the torrents of elite-friendly theorising in the media. You have not stopped to think what the word democracy really means, instead you choose to believe that we live in one. If that is indeed the starting point of your argument then perhaps you could somehow reach the conclusion that "democracy can self-destruct at any moment" or some such. Presumably you can give examples of this happening to "democracies" in the past.

            I presented a factual counter-argument based on a concrete example of a functioning democracy that has existed substantially in its present form for over 150 years. You could address my argument, instead of re-stating your charming belief in the power of free markets and private property.

            Btw John Kay explains very well why markets are often necessarily imperfect unless a 'level playing field' is enforced. The only known incorruptible mechanism for enforcing the level playing field is to hand the power to those who stand to lose from a lack of a level playing field. This is known as democracy, rule of the people.

  • Sean Mannion

    In Uk though, you don't have to go down the path of procedural de-recognition if you systematically sap labour organisations of their members and attack the traditional remaining strongholds of their membership (i.e. programmes of massive public-sector cuts simultaneous to the demolition of collective provision, enforced casualisation, etc.,). Not so suprisingly , this is easily done after decades of ruling parties building enormous walls of legislation around industrial action (of any kind) and dispute resolution. Oh, yes, and then there's this –… – on the proposed changes to unfair dismissal and tribunal regulations…

    Additionally, (this is too important to be an aside, but there you go…), speaking of police brutality and forcible removal, the Management Committee of Glasgow University today brought police into University Grounds to forcibly clear the peaceful occupation of the unused Hetherington Research Club by students, using around 60 police officers, dog-handlers, and air surveillance, resulting in numerous injuries and sparking a fresh occupation of the University Senate rooms. Won't hit the news properly 'til tomorrow, but worth watching…

  • somebody

    Africa Must Unite Against Neocolonialism And Imperialism
    By Justice Afrikhan.
    March 21, 2011

    Over half a century ago, one of Africa’s most illustrious sons, Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah fearlessly fought for and led the present day Ghana to achieve independence from British colonial rule. At the time, Nkrumah did not only believe that the Blackman was capable of managing or worse still, mismanaging his own affairs, but he also foresaw and exposed the subtle machinations and exploitations by the Western powers to perpetually maintain the status quo by ensuring that the African continent and indeed most part of the world remained divided and for that matter incapacitated economically, politically, and most importantly militarily.

  • somebody

    "No-Touch" Torture at Quantico
    The Shameful Abuse of Bradley Manning

    President Obama tells us that he's asked the Pentagon whether the conditions of confinement of Bradley Manning, the soldier charged with leaking state secrets, "are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards. They assure me that they are."

    If Obama believes that, he'll believe anything. I would hope he would know better than to ask the perpetrators whether they've been behaving appropriately. I can just hear President Nixon saying to a press conference the same thing: "I was assured by the White House Plumbers that their burglary of the office of Daniel Ellsberg's doctor in Los Angeles was appropriate and met basic standards."

  • julie

    green paddock – i agree that Clinton's 'smirk' is telling.
    It reflects her need to feel 'right' and 'on moral high ground' and 'in control.'

    Frankly, I think the US leadership is in trouble because it truly has lost the moral high ground and is on thin ice.

    Their moral bankruptcy is becoming more an more obvious (viz US soldiers posing with Afghan corpses).

    Mr Murray, you will enjoy this most brilliant little documentary for its intelligent (as well as visually and musically delightful) expose of Obama and America.

    LIFTING THE VEIL : Obama and the failure of Capitalist Democracy
    – a documentary by Canadian Scott Noble – available from Metanoia Films or on You Tube.

  • julie

    I forgot to add that this unassuming little documentary – Lifting the Veil – features excellent interviews with
    – Chris Hedges
    – Noam Chomsky
    – John Pilger
    – John Sauber (of PR Watch)
    – Larry Pinkney (of Black Commentary)

    As one review notes: '… documentarian Scott Noble eviscerates the myth of the American dream, laying bare the grinning, skeletal greed at its core. It’s the best single compilation we’ve yet seen on the corruption that has demolished the American commons'…

    LIFTING THE VEIL : Obama and the failure of Capitalist Democracy
    – a documentary by Canadian Scott Noble – available from Metanoia Films or on You Tube.

  • evgueni

    thank you for the heads-up. It is a great film. I wish only that it were less vague in answering the question "what to do?" This is my only criticism of people like Chomsky and Pilger and others – they do a great job of exposing what is wrong and who is to blame, but stop short of suggesting remedies beyond the vague "wake up" and "organise" calls.

    Someone ought to make a film to construct from first principles an understanding of what a true democracy is, that democracy is the sum total of society's institutions, and that reforming the most important of those institutions must be the aim of our collective action. The two most important institutions of democracy in my view are:

    1. the constitution that defines how the people are represented by their government
    2. popular news media, or "agenda-setting" media

    There is a living example of how the constitution can be reformed to serve the people in the case of Switzerland, where the people's representatives are bound at every level by institutions of direct democracy – I&R. This is a tremendous leap forward the importance of which cannot be overestimated – the people of Switzerland can never again be shamelessly screwed against their will by elite interests! It is just not possible for this to happen. It is not possible to imagine Switzerland ever taking part in a foreign war of aggression. Somehow it seems the only people that understand this fact are the Swiss themselves and a few scholars… the rest of the world acts like it is immunised against the idea of I&R from birth. Campaigning for the introduction of institutions of direct democracy at the national level must be a better use of one's time than marching 'against capitalism' or some other such vague activity.

    As for major news media, I do not know of any existing examples of reform, but we can still imagine it can't we? Really the importance of agenda-setting media is such that its status should be elevated to that of a public service and it should be brought under democratic control. Just imagine where we could be now if our easily corruptible government could be held in check by a truly even-handed media. Iraq? Bankers bonuses? Tax avoidance?

    Of course there is also the view that economic equality is a pre-requisite for democracy, that is to say economic equality is the cause rather than a result of democracy. Consequently, for these people the important targets to go after are the institutions that perpetuate and amplify inequity – namely debt-based privately controlled money supply, and private ownership of land and the natural resources therein. Fine, campaigning for reform there would still be better than demonstrating against this or that.

  • somebody


  • Duncan_McFarlan

    Really pretty shocked by the way Ray McGovern was treated, though maybe i shouldn't be given that Abu Ghraib style torture is common-place in prisons on the US mainland (electrocution by repeated taserings, beatings, rape etc).

    On the Universal Declaration i completely agree that the economic and social rights are as important as civil and political ones. The right to life is the most basic right and people who've died of lack of affordable healthcare or hunger or thirst are just as dead as people who've been shot or kept in jail without trial till they die. There's a ridiculous tradition of pretending that the "negative rights" (i.e civil and political) are more important – the reality is that if you take one set of rights from people they soon lose the others too.

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