The State Department, releasing an annual report on its efforts to promote human rights and democracy, declared yesterday that upholding human rights will be key to assessing relations with other countries. But the report sidestepped mention of U.S. prison abuse scandals in Iraq and Afghanistan, which had prompted a delay in the report last year.
Although the report was critical of U.S. allies such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the nearly 300-page document also illustrated exceptions to the administration's pledge to make human rights the hallmark of its bilateral relations. Libya, for instance, was harshly condemned as "among the world's worst violators of human rights," but in the past year the administration has lifted economic sanctions and begun to normalize relations with Libya after it gave up its programs to build weapons of mass destruction.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has made promotion of democracy a central part of her diplomacy since taking office two months ago. On releasing the report, she told reporters that "in all that lies ahead, our nation will continue to clarify for other nations the moral choice between oppression and freedom, and we will make it clear that ultimately success in our relations depends on the treatment of their own people."
Rice's preface to the report drove home that theme as well, declaring that in the past year there has been a "dramatic shift in the world's landscape" after elections in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories, and the successful effort to overturn fraudulent elections in Ukraine. The report said that, for the United States, "promoting freedom [is] the bedrock of foreign policy."
Acting Assistant Secretary of State Michael G. Kozak was peppered with questions about the administration's support of nations with less-than-stellar records on democracy. Last week, for instance, the administration announced it would sell F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, which is ruled by a general who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999.
Kozak said it is difficult to apply a "scientific cookie-cutter approach" that works consistently. "Sometimes it's the carrot, and sometimes it's the stick," he said, adding that the right combination will vary by country. "You can slice and dice this any way you want. Hopefully, you know, the sausage machine produces something that's halfway coherent at the end."
Amnesty International applauded the U.S. initiatives outlined in the report but said U.S. credibility is hurt by the prison abuse scandal and the administration's practice of sending some terrorism suspects to countries that the State Department has criticized for their use of torture. Many of the administration's policies to promote democracy and human rights will be greeted with "deep skepticism" if current practices continue, the human rights group said in a statement.
Kozak maintained that the problems caused by the images of the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq have been mitigated by the fact that many soldiers have been court-martialed. "Our system is there, it's working," he said.