Why is it that when the United States is responsible for violations of international law, international human rights law, and international humanitarian law, discussions of the violations center almost exclusively on whether such violations are necessary and effective? It’s almost as if international law only exists for others, and even then the ‘others’ to which international law applies is limited to those the U.S. views as ‘rogue’ states.
The United States has disregarded international law time and again, making a mockery of its very existence. Such behavior makes clear to the rest of the world that the U.S. lacks the moral authority necessary to make serious and substantiate its proclamations. I cannot help but conclude that U.S. hypocrisy, along with the clarity with which the populations of other states view U.S. policy, contributed to the U.S. being ranked as the greatest threat to world peace.
More significantly, the term ‘hypocrisy’ is incapable of contextualizing exactly what it is being used to describe. In just the past twelve-plus years, the United States has illegallyinvaded one country and systematically tortured individuals it has rendered and detained. Currently, the U.S. maintains oversight over facilities in Afghanistan at which detainees are still systematically tortured, force-feeds individuals protesting their indefinite detention at Guantanamo Bay, and operates a “targeted” killing program that continues to kill innocent people. As per usual, the U.S. has succeeded in egregiously violating some of the most significant international legal standards with complete impunity.
The United States’ ability to act with impunity and to immunize its officials from accountability for their crimes owes much of its success to government propaganda, the indoctrination of its youth into a belief system that labels even the most abhorrent of U.S. actions in foreign affairs as necessary and motivated by right intent, and a deferential mainstream media that generally refuses to recognize U.S. crimes for what they are.
Impunity for U.S. actions and immunity for U.S. officials maintains bipartisan support among elected and appointed officials. The majority of the electorate either shares this support or only demands accountability when seeking such from members of the other party. And the media plays its obedient role as cheerleader for U.S. foreign policy. The use of the term ‘cheerleader’ is especially apt because many elected officials and their partisan supporters delude themselves into thinking all of this is just a game, one that involves two teams—the red team and the blue team. Meanwhile, policies created, implemented, and supported by members of both parties have tragic effects on the lives of real people.
The mainstream media abdicates its responsibility to the American citizenry for a variety of reasons. It caters its coverage of U.S. foreign policy to the ‘bewildered herd.’ It primarily regurgitates the propaganda that Americans are bludgeoned with from a very young age. Americans are taught to put their leaders on pedestals, to respect them unconditionally, unless perhaps, maintaining the spirit of the “game,” the leader in question is on the wrong team. Any attempt to knock them off their pedestals is considered in some circles to be un-American, or worse.
Questions surrounding the legality of U.S. actions are not asked. To ask such questions would be impolite. Rather than challenge the powers that be and their revisionist histories, the mainstream media maintains messaging that is congruent with what most Americans think they already know.
In the United States, the actual use or threat of violence, therefore, is generally unnecessary to control the way the majority of the populace thinks because passiveness—active participation, of course, is only necessary through the symbolic act of voting for members of the red team or the blue team—is ingrained in Americans.
It is time for an honest conversation about the ways in which the United States operates around the world (and at home, for that matter). It is time to recognize the lives that have been unnecessarily destroyed, in many cases literally. This is the first piece in this discussion. And this discussion is only the beginning. Discussion without action is about as useful as wood without fire.
Jeff Bachman is a professor of human rights at American University in Washington, with a focus in state responsibility for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Follow him on Twitter:@jeff_bachman