With most American foreign policymakers are still biting their nails over Egypt and half of our punditry swooning in a Reagan-shaped dream cloud (and the other half trying to either ignore said cloud or politically handicap the speakers at the series of “Gippertenial” events), some stories will inevitably slip below our collective radar.
One of those, however, deserves mention because it shows how little things have really changed in our country and how one of the most important debates in our nation’s history has for all intents and purposes been sidelined.Yesterday, former President Bush cancelled a planned speaking engagement in Switzerland over fears that his human rights record (he recently admitted to personally authorizing the use of waterboarding in interrogations) would prove troublesome. He didn’t come to this decision, however, because of actual threats by the Swiss authorities, like others in his administration had (Donald Rumsfeld expressed reservations about going to a defense conference in Germany because prosecutors threatened legal action if he entered the country). No, the action seems to have been taken mainly by those in Amnesty International, who sent a 5,000 page case against Bush to Swiss prosecutors. The prosecutors then almost tripped over themselves to quickly issue a statement assuring Bush that he stood at no risk of incarceration; he decided to cancel his trip nevertheless.
This this more than a rehashing of past debates; a careful look at the specifics of the story shows how the battle lines have slowly been redrawn in the international debate over the human detritus of the war on terror. Amnestly International, not so surprisingly, still holds its place on the side calling for leniency, but most European governements seem to have abandoned this stance, often at the urging of the current administration (recently disclosed diplomatic cables show that the Obama administration pressured Spanish prosecutors to drop charges against high-level Bush officials). Barack Obama cast himself as the “anti-Bush” in the 2008 campaign when it came to human rights, and this served him quite well in the Democratic primary, but he seems to tampered much of these stances, essentially abandoning his promise to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and issuing what amounted to an extra-legal death warrant against American-born cleric Anwar al-Awalki. It really says something that, due in no small part to his influence, the opinions that he made his own during his presidential run have been “de-institutionalized” in what is commonly seen as one of the most liberal regions on the planet. It’s not that most Americans suddenly approve of torture; the sizable group of people who don’t are just slowly losing a voice in governments around the world.