Growing up in the USA in the 60s and 70s, I was taught that I lived in a country uniquely founded on freedom and respect for human dignity. For better or worse, my first serious intellectual passion was centered on native American cultures and their destruction by the freedom-loving Americans, so by the time I was an adolescent I was all too well-aware that this glorious mythology was a cover story meant to obscure the innocent blood and deceit in which the American dream is soaked.
But still, even within all the hypocrisy there seemed to be some remaining sense that America really was somehow different and better than other countries. When Watergate embarrassed the nation into electing Jimmy Carter, there was a brief moment of hope. I know that even then we were supporting thugs in Guatemala, the Phillipines, Iran and elsewhere, but there was something ennobling in the declaration that we held human rights inviolate -- even if our concern was demonstrably hypocritical.
In those days, the American government quoted the annual reports from organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to buttress its own critiques of oppressive governments -- those aligned with the Soviet Union anyway.
Those days are now long gone. Gone is the noble hypocrisy. No longer do we claim to be "better;" now it's enough to assert power. The latest report from Human Rights Watch spells it out:
The 2006 World Report is not easy reading for those who believe in and value human dignity.
"New evidence demonstrated in 2005 that torture and mistreatment have been a deliberate part of the Bush administration’s counter terrorism strategy, undermining the global defense of human rights.
The evidence showed that abusive interrogation cannot be reduced to the misdeeds of a few low-ranking soldiers, but was a conscious policy choice by senior U.S. government officials. The policy has hampered Washington’s ability to cajole or pressure other states into respecting international law, said the 532-page volume’s introductory essay."