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Does America live up to its’ ideals?

May 16, 2008

Illustration Kevin Kallagher

The Economist has an interesting item on freedom in the USA. The column discusses a new report by Freedom House.

The item starts:-

NO OTHER country puts as much emphasis on “freedom” as the United States. Patrick Henry demanded “liberty or death”. The national anthem calls America “the land of the free”. Great reformers from Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King have urged America to live up to its ideal of “freedom”. When a group of French Americanophiles wanted to flatter the United States, they sent the Statue of Liberty.

And no other country boasts as much about its mission to give freedom to the rest of the world. Woodrow Wilson thought that he had a God-given duty to bring liberty to mankind. George Bush regards his foreign policy as a crusade for freedom—“the right and hope of all humanity”.

But how good is America at living up to its own ideals? A new study by Freedom House tries to answer this question. The fact that Freedom House has devoted so much attention to the United States is significant in its own right. Founded in 1941 by a group of Americans who were worried about the advance of fascism, Freedom House is now the world’s leading watchdog of liberty. The fact that “Today’s American: How Free?” is such a thorough piece of work makes it doubly significant.

It finishes with:-

“How Free?” repeatedly argues, even as it dredges through the most depressing material, that the American system has proved admirably self-correcting. The response of civil-liberties advocates has been swift and dogged. The Supreme Court has forced the administration to extend the Geneva conventions to inmates in Guantánamo and other military prisons. Congress has reined in warrantless wiretapping. The press has repeatedly published leaked material.

This is perhaps a little optimistic—the courts have been slow and Congress half-hearted. But nevertheless the self-correction is now entering a higher gear. All the current presidential candidates, Democratic and Republican alike, have condemned torture and rendition and declared their desire to close Guantánamo. Freedom House’s new publication will be an important contribution to this process of self-correction.

The Freedom House web-site is well worth a look. It was interesting reading the New Zealand entry in their annual survey on press freedom.

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One Comment
  1. Ed Snack permalink
    May 16, 2008 12:32 pm

    Interesting about Gauntanamo, those held there are covered by the Geneva convention, and were from the start. All those people were “illegal combatants” under the convention, as such they effectively have no rights except that their status should be confirmed by an appropriate tribunal. Note that no qualifications are required for the tribunal. The US was slow to establish the tribunal, but no timetable is required under the GC for the tribunal.

    As Illegal Combatants, any of those held could have been legally summarily executed on the battlefield, at least legally under the GC.

    It may become questionable as to whether the preconditions for the GC to apply were in place, but once an appeal to the GC is made, the status of those people is quite clear. One can also argue that these people are simply criminals, but again that is very definitely arguable both ways, and as much as the term is over-used and subject to ridicule (a la Annette King), common sense would at least in my mind suggest that criminal is incorrect.

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