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More Dots To Connect: Human Rights Violators Benefit From U.S. Military Aid
11 June 2002
The State Department has put out its annual report documenting human rights violations around the world. Georgia, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Djibouti, Kenya, Colombia, the list goes on, and the story is basically the same, and reads like this: "Government's human rights record remained poor; security forces continued to commit serious abuses, including extrajudicial killings."
Following its Human Rights Report, the State Department also issued, in collaboration with the Pentagon, another of its annual reports, this one documenting the 180 countries whose security forces were trained last year by the U.S. military. It's a funny thing: in more than 50 cases, including all the ones I just listed, these countries are the same. The U.S. is training many armies around the world that have terrible human rights records. And there's no evidence that U.S. training is successfully teaching them American ideals of democracy and human rights.
There's much talk these days about failures to connect the dots - referring to intelligence clues that 9/11 was coming. Some other dots that need connecting are the ones between these two State Department reports.
In his recent speech at West Point, President Bush unveiled his vision for American foreign policy, which has now been fleshed out in the proposal for a cabinet department devoted to homeland defense. According to this vision, global U.S. military expansion and promotion of human rights form a seamless whole. Bush pledged that the U.S. will be spreading training, weapons and troops to stamp out terrorist cells in some 60 countries around the world. And, he said, we will also be promoting moderation and tolerance and human rights.
But the two State Department reports show that in the real world these goals may not fit so well together. The administration's latest proposal to fund the war on terrorism, contained in an emergency supplemental bill now being debated in Congress, includes hundreds of millions more for our global military expansion. Despite their professed concern for human rights, the administration crafted this proposal to eliminate virtually all of the Congress' past efforts to consider the human rights records of countries when doling out foreign military assistance.
When you get down to cases, you begin to see how much the broad brush of the Bush administration's self-described "moral clarity" really obscures. Take the case of Indonesia, for example. Throughout the '90s, Congress repeatedly cut off foreign military assistance in response to killing sprees committed by the notoriously brutal Indonesian military. When, for instance, the East Timorese voted in 1999 for independence from Indonesia, the Indonesian military and its paramilitary allies responded with vengeance. In the weeks following, more than 1,000 East Timorese were killed, 250,000 became refugees, and 75 percent of East Timor's infrastructure was destroyed. East Timor is now officially the poorest country in the world.
The Clinton administration cut off all aid to Indonesia, setting human rights and democracy conditions that Indonesia would have to meet to get it restored. But under Bush - and before any of these conditions have been met - military assistance to Indonesia is back: nearly $18 million was awarded last year, and Congress appears prepared to dole out about $12 million more.
So much for the seamless whole of spreading military aid and democracy.