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Thursday, August 26, 2021 Leer en Español

Wars Are No Way to Advance Human Rights

The United States has no business “cleaning up” foreign countries when we ourselves are in such a hot mess.

iStock Photo Library | Credit: nordmannjj

After 20 long years, $2 trillion dollars, and nearly 2,500 American deaths, the US finally pulled out of one of our greatest foreign conflicts, leaving Afghanistan under the orders of President Joe Biden. The exit has been…messy to say the very least.

American citizens are struggling to escape the country, and the US government abandoned thousands of Afghani interpreters, soldiers, and others who assisted America during the decades long battle.

Within one week of the withdrawal of the US military, the Taliban regained control of the region and immediately began reinstituting elements of Sharia Law. Advertisements portraying women were torn down from city streets, professional women went home to hide their degrees, and many fear that females will again be forced into arranged marriages. Mothers were seen handing their babies to departing US soldiers in a desperate attempt to provide an escape for their children from a bleak future.

In response, some prominent Americans have condemned the decision to leave the region and argue that American troops should stay in what many have dubbed a “forever war” to protect the human rights of these women.

Former Governor of South Carolina and known war-hawk Nikki Haley said, “You’re going to have sex slaves. You’re going to have child marriages. You’re going to have girls that are no longer allowed in school.”

And it seems these voices found sympathetic ears on social media.

It is clear that many have come to view our foreign wars less in the vein of national security and more in the role of humanitarian support. And when presented with images of such suffering it is easy to see why many feel compelled to intervene.

But while the intentions of these would-be do-gooders might come from genuine concern, war, and particularly American wars, have a horrible track record of defending and upholding human rights.

For the sake of space, let’s just examine the past two decades of US interventionism and its ramifications.

It’s hard to say exactly how many armed conflicts we’re currently in because, in defiance of all constitutional norms, none of our many wars since World War II have been congressionally declared. Instead, we’ve entered into conflicts through resolutions that authorize military force.

When President Obama approved the use of military force in Libya, for example, he did so based on the War Powers Resolution….which was passed in 1973. That intervention led to the death of the country’s dictator Muammar Qaddafi, but deeply destabilized the region. It was the third time in a decade the US attempted regime change, and it failed just as spectacularly as the attempts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Interestingly, this conflict also began under the guise of a human rights campaign, with the intent to liberate Libyans from their own government. But as The Atlantic put it, once the leaders were removed, “Tough questions about who would reconstruct Libya or provide jobs for the rebel militia members were left unanswered—or even unasked. Libya disintegrated as rival militias feuded for power, and ISIS seized the opportunity to establish a franchise operation.”

Not only did the Libya conflict create a power vacuum that led to the rise of ISIS and all kinds of horrors under the terrorist group’s command, it also led to a huge uptick in human slavery in the region. According to Generation Rights Over the World, a human rights think tank, “Libya is an important transit area for migrants and refugees hoping to reach Europe by sea. Human trafficking networks have thrived in anarchy, created by warring militias fighting for control of territories since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.”

What happened in Libya only scratches the surface, though. In calculating the human rights violations throughout the Middle East in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the US has far too many strikes in its own column to be painted as a savior of the oppressed.

Frequent reports of US backed bombings against civilians have scattered across the headlines for years. In 2015, a US military aircraft targeted a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan and killed 22 people. In 2019, 40 people were killed at a wedding in Afghanistan. Days before that, 32 pine nut harvesters were bombed on their farms. There are countless stories like this from the conflicts over the years. According to Reuters, “A U.N. report released on June 30 said 717 civilian deaths were attributed to American and Afghan forces during the first six months of the year, compared with 531 blamed on militants.”

Several human rights violations committed by US military forces in Afghanistan and Iraq were revealed by former Army soldier Chelsea Manning, who leaked materials to Wikileaks, the organization founded by Julian Assange. These included the infamous “Collateral Murder” video which, according to Wikipedia, showed a US military helicopter crew in Baghdad, Iraq, “firing on a group of men and killing several of them, then laughing at some of the casualties, all of whom were civilians, including two Reuters journalists.”

With the help of Manning and others, Assange’s Wikileaks published thousands of secret documents that showed the extent of the atrocities perpetrated by our government (and others), including the killing of civilians and the widespread use of torture in prison camps.

As they say, no good deed goes unpunished. And for their service to human rights, both Manning and Assange have been persecuted. Assange has been held in London for almost ten years, at times receiving asylum from the Ecuadorian Embassy and at times held in jail under inhumane conditions. The US continues to push for his extradition to be tried in the states. And Chelsea Manning has faced her own battles with the legal system. She was initially convicted for violating the Espionage Act in 2013 and sentenced to 35 years in prison. To his credit, then President Obama commuted her sentence in 2017. But that wasn’t the end of it. The system came after her again in 2019 when she refused to participate in the case against Assange. The government imprisoned her again and fined her $256,000. While behind bars, Manning was placed in a men’s prison despite her transition, was often kept in solitary confinement, and made numerous suicide attempts.

This is how the US government treats the people who blow the whistle on our human rights violations….with more human rights violations against them.

In regards to torture camps, we’ve long known about some and have reason to suspect many others.

At our formation, the founders found it so important that the US not partake in torture that they wrote it into our Bill of Rights under the Eighth Amendment, which expressly forbids it. But to get around the little problem of the Constitution (and our fundamental beliefs in human rights), the US government has merely moved the torture camps off US soil or covered them up.

One of those locations is Guantanomo Bay, which became infamous for its torture practices and barely legal existence. Another is the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, where it has come to light that US military members and CIA personnel committed physical abuse, torture, rape, and murder against detainees.

It is worth noting that these actions violate the Geneva Convention, and the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

The US government’s crimes against human rights do not only take place overseas either. Not even close. In fact, America’s wars have trickled back home leading to domestic violations against individual liberty as well.

In the name of national security, the US government has implemented a massive surveillance state, collecting information on all Americans without cause and without a warrant. We only know this thanks to the heroic actions of former NSA-contractor Edward Snowden, who risked his life to alert the American public to the violations against them by their own government. He too was heavily persecuted and pursued, most notably by former President Obama and now President Biden, and he has lived in exile in Russia ever since (The Obama Administration heavily pressured other countries to extradite him, leaving Russia as his only option). He is still wanted for treason in the states and could face 30 years in prison if ever apprehended. The programs he blew the whistle on continue in large part to this day.

Not only have our 4th Amendment rights come under attack here at home, so too have many of our other civil liberties along with them. Over the past two decades, we have seen a tremendous rise in the power behind the police state.

Militarization of the police has seen unused US military equipment sent to police departments to be used against our own citizens. Police obtain shaky warrants, break into homes unannounced in the middle of the night, tear gas protestors, and steal from citizens under civil asset forfeiture with abandon. As Americans exercise their right to assemble and petition, they are often met with tank-like vehicles, police in SWAT gear, and military grade weapons.

And don’t get me started on all the human rights violations being perpetrated right now using COVID-19 as an excuse.

And they say they hate us because we’re so free.

Countries often use the illusion of fighting for human rights to advance their war agenda. If they told citizens it was to seize resources, enrich military contractors, or increase their own power it would be a lot harder to muster support for sending Americans to die overseas (along with the trillions we send with them).

If Americans really want to protect human rights, our policies must focus on ending the wars and stopping the human rights violations that occur under them. And then our resources should be directed to ceasing the human rights violations in our own backyard.

In his popular book 12 Rules for Life, Canadian Psychologist Jordan Peterson writes, “If you can’t even clean up your own room, who the hell are you to give advice to the world?”

We have no business “cleaning up” foreign countries when we ourselves are in such a hot mess. We Americans need to clean our own room by confronting the human rights violations committed by our own government, at home and abroad, before again tasking that very government to police human rights abuses elsewhere. If we did that, we would lead the world by example, and inspire people around the world (especially women) to shake off their oppressors, instead of becoming their oppressors ourselves.

As John Quincy Adams said in a famous speech, “if people enquire what has America done for the benefit of mankind… Let our answer be this: (…) She (America) goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.”

  • Hannah Cox is the former Content Manager and Brand Ambassador for the Foundation for Economic Education.