Let sleeping dogs lie is a sound adage, but when they keep waking up and yelping false accusations about my views on human rights, I have a duty to correct the record.
A recent example appeared in a Style article (Jan. 14): "after the Senate rejected Ernest Lefever's nomination to head the Human Rights Bureau, (William) Clark negotiated the approval of Elliott Abrams, who, unlike Lefever, is a vigorous advocate of human rights."
The Senate did not reject my nomination. I withdrew after a negative vote by the Foreign Relations Committee; the matter was never considered by the Senate.
Far more consequential is the charge that I am not a "vigorous advocate of human rights," which flies in the face of everything I have ever written, said or done. This accusation was manufactured out of whole cloth largely by persons whose own human rights record is seriously flawed by repeated expressions of concern for minor violations in friendly authoritarian states and an almost total neglect of massive violations in unfriendly totalitarian states, such as the Soviet Union and Cuba.
My whole history demonstrates a deep concern for assaults against human dignity everywhere. During and after the nomination, in public and private, I have said hundreds of times: "Torture, exile under brutal conditions, harsh emigration restrictions and other abuses are reprehensible whether committed by friend, foe or neutral. There must be only one moral yardstick." To say we should be equally concerned everywhere does not mean we can be equally effective.
I repudiate the selective morality of my strident critics, just as I respect genuine human rights advocates, though we may disagree on the means for advancing freedom and justice. Most of my work as assistant secretary-designate was devoted to practical efforts to ameliorate abuses by U.S. allies. I did not, however, advocate scolding our friends in public at every opportunity. I played a major if quiet role in getting a $1.5 million appropriation for the International Committee of the Red Cross for the exclusive purpose of visiting political detainees in non-communist countries. Communist states do not permit such visits.
Also to the point is my long human rights and humanitarian record, which I would be embarrassed to cite were it not for the barrage of disinformation that was reported (and sometimes editorially endorsed) in the media here and around the world. For 40 years I have been involved in many efforts to help the poor, the imprisoned and the oppressed, usually as a volunteer. Before Pearl Harbor I became active in the U.S. civil rights movement, working with Bayard Rustin and Jim Farmer. Shortly after Pearl Harbor I succeeded in getting the first Japanese Americans out of internment camps in California. Among many other things, my wife and I sponsored a Vietnamese boat family of five after the fall of Saigon.
It is a pity that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the American public were denied an honest picture of my life and work. To paraphrase one candid member of the committee: We are not voting on who you are or what you think, but on a caricature of you presented in the media.