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Alsoswa, speaking at a panel on Guantanamo at the Middle Eastern Studies
Association annual meeting, laid out a critical picture of the ways in which
American pressure in the counterterrorism arena served as a real barrier
12 Jordan Asks US to Provide Charges Made against Detainees in Guantanamo Al Dastur,
August 30, 2004, at 1. c
13 Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Gulf News, US Urged to Repatriate Bahraini Prisoners,

Mar. 21, 2007, http://www.bahrainrights.org/en/node/1108.
122 AFTER ABU GHRAIB


to Yemen™s provision of certain human rights guarantees. Further, even if
many Middle Eastern government of¬cials had given in to the notion of
a harsh realpolitik power-infused world order, a part of them still felt the
indignity of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo also directed at them as Muslims
or Arabs and was accordingly moved to challenge it at some level on moral
grounds. Determining to what extent a Middle Eastern government of¬-
cial™s condemnation of American human rights failings was instrumental
and to what extent it was borne out of personal sense of conviction was a
complicated, if not impossible, undertaking.

Parting with East/West Scripts
Middle Eastern media and public discourse was replete with explicit chal-
lenges to underlying assumptions of the East/West geography “ though often
entangled in in¬‚ammatory or otherwise problematic assertions. This state-
ment in a Jordan Times op-ed by a former Jordanian government of¬cial
following Abu Ghraib was typical:

They should never assume the high moral ground of coming to civilize us and teach
us how to behave, how to reform, how to promote human rights, how to promote
the status of women, how to ¬ght corruption, how to improve education and how
to respect the law. Yes, we need all of that, but not from them. We do not want our
women to follow the example of that woman torturer who was ecstatic about the
pain and humiliation she was in¬‚icting in torture sessions on Iraqi male prisoners.
We do not want to learn their inhumanity, their lies, their cruelty, their injustice,
their lawlessness, their corruption, their extremist ideologies, their conspiracies, their
racism, their contempt and sel¬shness, their double standards, the terror in their
society and their schools, and the evil that is driving them to destroy our world. If
that is what they have to offer, God bless our backwardness and save us from that
so-called “freedom.”14

Despite its clear patriarchal undertones signaled by the fear that “our
women” will follow Lynndie England™s example, the critique not only
encompassed a clear rejection of the American authority to pass judgment
on Middle Eastern human rights practices, it also linked its indictment of
American human rights violations to American culture. What distinguishes
such a statement from countless others with similar formulations issued
prior to September 11th is the fact that although it eschews American human
rights practices and prescriptions, it does not eschew the entire human rights
project. Although I will discuss the signi¬cance of the new posture for the
local legitimacy of human rights in the Middle East in chapter 4, its sig-
ni¬cance relative to the politics and hierarchies embedded in global human
rights dynamics are equally noteworthy. At some level, it suggests a view of

14 Hasan Abu Nimah, Not from Them, Jordan Times, May 5, 2004.
123
THE MIDDLE EASTERN GAZE ON AMERICAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITMENTS


human rights whose terms are no longer set exclusively by the United States
or the West but is potentially serious and introspective nonetheless.
A similar altered consciousness can also be detected among many of the
region™s human rights advocates, though typically in a more re¬ned form.
Jamal Abdullah al Shami, the director of Yemen™s Democracy School, main-
tained that before 9/11, human rights groups largely adopted the West™s
human rights values, whereas now they increasingly challenge them.15
Numerous others also indicated they had moved beyond the East/West
binary in the post“September 11th era. “We have to get rid of this view that
[the US] is a pure democracy, it has no weakness. Democracy is also a pro-
cess . . . there is no formula where there is no human rights violations . . . no,
at the end it™s human nature,” offered Amal Basha of Yemen™s Sisters™
Forum for Human Rights.16 Another telling indicator of Middle Eastern
activists™ emergent trend was for Middle Eastern advocates to extend their
gaze beyond their own borders and into Western territory. In the interviews
conducted, I encountered repeated references to discrimination against Mus-
lims and Arabs in the United States and Europe. As Basha notes,

Now we are engaged in a movement where we need those Western countries to
protect the human rights of the minorities. Not to view every Muslim in the West
as a potential terrorist. And this is what has been happening. You are a terrorist by
(the way you) look. We are looking at the West and see they are losing this tolerance
vis-a-vis the different minorities. And this is what we try to remind those Western
`
countries.17

Finally, Middle Eastern activists were involved in campaigns that pressed
their governments to resist American pressure to sign Bilateral Immunity
Agreements, exempting Americans citizens and employees accused of inter-
national crimes in their countries from being subject to the jurisdiction of the
International Criminal Court. The topic, treated as aiding American strong-
arm tactics in the way of skirting accountability under international law,
became a campaign taken up widely by human rights advocates and was
debated in the media as well as legislatures in several Middle Eastern coun-
tries, including both Jordan and Yemen. In Egypt, the Cairo Institute for
Human Rights sent a letter to the Arab League urging its secretary-general
to add the issue of Arab states signing bilateral agreements with the United
States on the agenda of an upcoming Arab summit. “The stance of Arab
states must not be limited to meaningless verbal condemnation [of human

15 Interview with Jamal Abdullah al-Shami, chairman of the Democracy School, in Sana™a,
Yemen (Jan. 23, 2007).
16 Interview with Amal Basha, Yemeni Women™s Rights Activist, in Sana™a, Yemen (Jan. 22,

2007).
17 Id.
124 AFTER ABU GHRAIB


rights violations] in light of the immoral bilateral agreements some of these
governments signed which protect war criminals, giving them free reign to
commit their crimes,” the letter stated.18

The Kuwaiti Experience
Perhaps one of the most fascinating examples of the way in which the
East/West geography of human rights was turned on its head in the post“
September 11th era was to be found in Kuwait. There were twelve Kuwaiti
nationals detained at Guantanamo Bay following September 11th. Kuwaiti
activists aided by their government led an impressive campaign to have
these detainees either freed or granted basic due process rights. Once some
of the detainees were released from Guantanamo, it was the Kuwaiti judicial
system, not an American one that provided them a fair trial.

A Kuwaiti Human Rights Campaign in the United States
In 2002, Khalid al-Odah, the father of Guantanamo detainee Fawzi al-
Odah, founded the Kuwait Families Committee. Al-Odah was a retired
Kuwaiti lieutenant colonel who had spent considerable time training in the
United States. As a result, he spoke near perfect English and had some grasp
of American sensibilities. The Families Committee charged itself with the
exclusive task of advancing the rights of Kuwait™s Guantanamo detainees.
As al-Odah described it, the group adopted a four-pronged strategy: (1) lit-
igation, (2) collaboration with local and international human rights NGOs,
(3) a comprehensive media effort both in Kuwait and in the United States,
and (4) the pursuit of diplomatic channels.19
The Kuwait Families Committee hired experienced attorneys from promi-
nent American law ¬rms to represent them in litigating the detainees™ cases
in the United States. As a result, two challenges to Fawzi al-Odah™s detention
in Guantanamo Bay were heard in the United States Supreme Court, each
time serving as a part of what were hailed as landmark decisions: Rasul v.
Bush, Al Odah v. United States in 2004, and Boumediene v. Bush, which
was consolidated with Al Odah v. United States in 2008. Both decisions
upheld Guantanamo detainees™ rights to challenge their detention in U.S.
courts.
The Families Committee realized early, however, that litigation alone
would not be enough to affect the policy changes they sought. As al-Odah
explained, “At the beginning we were swimming against the current. It
was very dif¬cult for us to explain ourselves.” Thus (apparently on the
advice of another American attorney) the group decided to also hire Levick
18 Al-Ahram Weekly Online, Amira Howeidi, One Law for US, May 13“19, 2004, http://
weekly.ahram.org.eg/2004/690/fr2.htm.
19 Telephone interview with Khaled al-Odah, founder, Kuwait Families™ Committee (Jul. 17,

2008).
125
THE MIDDLE EASTERN GAZE ON AMERICAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITMENTS


Communications, an American public relations ¬rm that styles itself as
specializing in high-stakes and crisis situations. In an article in a public
relations publication, Richard Levick, the president of Levick Communi-
cations, described the adoption of a two-tiered public relations strategy “
one track aimed at putting “a human face on the then invisible detainees
in Guantanamo” and the other at “helping Americans understand how
the issues faced by the detainees affect all Americans.”20 These two objec-
tives were largely pursued through “media outreach.” Dozens of op-eds
by al-Odah and lawyers Tom Wilner and David Cynamon were published
in American newspapers and the American attorneys held numerous press
conferences and media events and participated in television interviews and
debates. According to Levick, on several occasions, American judges work-
ing on detainee cases openly cited articles resulting from the team™s media
efforts in their rulings.21 Another ¬rm was hired to design a Web site
(www.kuwaitifreedom.org) in which sympathetic pictures of the detainees
and their families as well as Guantanamo-related news and op-eds were
featured. Finally, some members of the Families Committee™s American
team lobbied members of Congress on detainee rights policies. Generally
either reminding Americans of their values tied up in rights and rule of
law or submitting that Guantanamo policies would give rise to radicalism
and thus threaten their security, the arguments being forged in these efforts
were clearly framed and formulated to resonate with an American audi-
ence. In contrast to the “it™s not about them, it™s about us” tune of the
campaign presented in chapter 2, here the message largely formulated and
delivered by American attorneys and public relations specialists seemed to
oscillate (sometimes awkwardly) between “it™s about us” and “it™s about
them.”
In Kuwait, al-Odah and the Families Committee pursued local and
regional human rights activism. They attended the international confer-
ences on Guantanamo described earlier in the chapter, organized protests in
London and Kuwait City, and waged a domestic media campaign designed
to ratchet up pressure for the Kuwaiti government to take action. Al-Odah
described the groups™ media efforts in Kuwait as very successful, stating that
the issue received wide coverage in Kuwaiti newspapers, TV, and radio. “If
you ask anyone on the street what is Guantanamo, they will know. They will
tell you that it is a human rights issue. They will know how many Kuwaitis
have been released and how many still remain. They will know about
the legal process for the Kuwaitis once they came home.”22 The Families

20 Richard Levick, PR Perspectives: A Long-Term Struggle . . . How a Media Campaign Helped

Turn the Guantanamo Tide, Dec. 2005, http://www.workinpr.com/industry/research/2005_
12_prperspective.asp (last visited Aug. 10, 2008).
21 Id.
22 See Khaled al-Odah, supra note 19.
126 AFTER ABU GHRAIB


Committee also joined forces with other Kuwaiti rights activists to place the
Guantanamo issue center stage in a visit by George Bush in January 2008.
Kuwaiti civil society members, particularly women, had been invited to par-
ticipate in forums and press conferences with the U.S. president. As part of
a coordinated effort, in each of those events, Kuwaiti advocates raised the
Guantanamo issue.
The ¬nal strategy pursued by the Kuwait Families Committee was to
prompt their government to place diplomatic pressure on the United States.
According to Tom Wilner, the Kuwaiti government™s commitment changed
over time. As he explained it, initially, the United States™ security forces
assured the Kuwaitis that the detainees were real threats, but as time passed,
the Kuwaiti ambassador to Washington began to suspect that that was
not the case. Soon, the Kuwaiti emir, foreign minister, and ambassador
took the lead on the diplomatic front and were, in fact, quite effective.23
Khalid al-Odah offered a similar assessment of the Kuwaiti government™s
role. He stated that the Kuwaiti government was very cautious at ¬rst, but
“we managed to persuade them to stand beside us.”24 Al-Odah believed that
by the time of the 2004 decision in Rasul v. Bush and Al Odah v. United
States, the group™s cause had the Kuwaiti government™s full support.25 In the
end the Kuwaiti government paid millions of dollars to fund the Families
Committees™ American legal representation and public relations services.
“Without them, we could not have done it,” al-Odah offered.26
The Kuwait Families Committee™s work in the United States also spurred
a limited conservative backlash. With a large portrait in an ornate frame
hanging on the wall behind him in his of¬ce just blocks away from Capitol
Hill, Tom Wilner skimmed through e-mail after e-mail accusing him of “hat-
ing America” and “representing the enemy.” However, the most systematic
challenge to the Kuwaiti initiative came from Debra Burlingame, the sister of
Charles Burlingame III (the pilot of one of the airplanes highjacked on Sep-
tember 11th) and an outspoken member of “9/11 Families for a Safe and
Strong America.” Burlingame published numerous articles in The Wall Street
Journal and other (namely, conservative) American publications and testi-
¬ed before Congress on the Kuwaiti initiative. She argued that the American
law ¬rm initially hired by the Families Committee took on the Kuwaiti case
because of long-standing ¬nancial connections and interests in the Middle
East:
The ¬rm™s Abu Dhabi of¬ce states that it has pioneered the concept of “Shariah-
compliant” ¬nancing. In Kuwait, the ¬rm has represented the government on a
23 Interview with Tom Wilner, Kuwait Families™ Committee attorney, in Washington, DC
(Jun. 27, 2008).
24 See Khaled al-Odah, supra note 19.
25 Id.
26 Id.
127
THE MIDDLE EASTERN GAZE ON AMERICAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITMENTS


wide variety of matters involving billions of dollars worth of assets. So the party
underwriting the litigation on behalf of the Kuwaiti 12 “ from which all of the
detainees have bene¬ted “ is one of Shearman & Sterling™s most lucrative OPEC
accounts.27

She further attempted to publicly unveil the Levick PR strategy of showing
detainees™ human face, calling it a “false narrative” and “propaganda.”28 In
her efforts, the entire Kuwaiti initiative in the United States is portrayed as
a foreign government funding work that is against American interests at a
time of war in the name of human rights.
The Kuwaiti initiative presents a number of intriguing parallels with
foreign human rights promotion initiative, generally undertaken by the
United States and other Western countries in the Middle East. A Kuwaiti
human rights group was given millions of dollars by the Kuwaiti govern-
ment to fund local actors™ human rights campaign in the United States.
Although the funding was not directly provided to an American human
rights NGO, much of the funding did go to lawyers for the purpose of
spearheading human rights litigation and promotion, often in close collab-
oration with human rights lawyers and American NGOs like the Center for
Constitutional Rights. Further, hiring a PR ¬rm is clearly more a habit of
wealthy Persian Gulf states than human rights campaigns pursuing partic-
ular agendas in the United States. However, it is interesting to note that
ultimately the PR ¬rm™s strategies of (1) framing the issues in ways that
resonated with domestic audiences to humanize human rights victims and
(2) consciousness-raising among the public and policymakers through com-
municative processes are identical to those typically used by human rights
forces. Similarly, the protests, media coverage, and public outcry inside
Kuwait, the shaming of U.S. of¬cials based in or traveling to Kuwait, and
the attempts to press the Kuwaiti government to place diplomatic pres-
sure on a close foreign ally mirror key elements of past Western human
rights campaigns directed toward Middle Eastern states and other Eastern
locales.
Perhaps what is more fascinating than the parallels between the Kuwaiti
initiate and Western human rights promotion efforts in the Middle East
and elsewhere are the parallels between the conservative American response
to the human rights initiative and traditional responses by conservatives
in the Middle East toward American human rights promotion projects.
The local advocates receiving foreign funding are discredited as betraying
national interests and promoting foreign interests and even religious-cultural
27 Debra Burlingame, Gitmo™s Guerilla Lawyers: How an Unscrupulous Legal and PR Cam-
paign Changed the Way the World Looks at Guantanamo, Wall St. J., Mar. 8, 2007
http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110009758 (last visited Aug. 1,
2008).
28 Id.
128 AFTER ABU GHRAIB


values, as Burlingame™s reference to Shearman & Sterling™s work in Shariah-
compliant ¬nancing is meant to do.

Upholding Detainees™ Rights in Kuwaiti Courts
Khalid al-Odah saw the Kuwait Families Committee™s efforts as geared
toward ensuring “the Kuwaiti detainees have their day in court, but a
neutral court, not something like the Military Commissions, which were
unacceptable.”29 After years in detention without due process, several of
Kuwait™s Guantanamo detainees did ¬nally receive a fair trial and their day
in court. Their day in court, however, was to be provided by a Kuwaiti
judicial process, not an American one.
In 2005 and 2006, a total of seven Kuwaiti nationals were released from
Guantanamo (¬ve in 2005 and two in 2006). Part of the understanding
between the Kuwaiti and American governments facilitating the release was
that they would be prosecuted in Kuwait. In public trials held before crim-
inal, not security courts (which had been abolished in Kuwait in 1995 to
wide Western acclaim), the men faced charges of engaging in activities that
would harm Kuwait™s political position by joining al Qaeda, committing
hostile acts against a foreign country (the United States) in a manner that
harms Kuwaiti political interests, and collecting donations for an illegal
organization.
Generally, the United States had little to offer by way of evidence other
than brief investigative summaries largely based on interrogations conducted
by American troops in Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Guantanamo. Kuwaiti
defense attorneys asked the court to ¬nd the American investigative sum-
maries inadmissible as evidence because the defendants had falsely confessed
to stop their torture at the hands of American authorities “ torture they
argued had included beatings with chains, electric shock, and sodomy.30 To
make their case, the defense also admitted a UN Human Rights Commission
report on Guantanamo that detailed instances of physical and psychological
torture carried out by American authorities.31 At the same time a provision
of Kuwaiti law banning the use of confessions obtained under duress was
also invoked.32 The Kuwaiti courts accepted the defense arguments and the
American submissions were not admitted into evidence. According to the
Washington Post, the Kuwaiti judges found the U.S. information unreliable,
29 See Khaled al-Odah, supra note 19.
30 JuristLegal News and Research, Tatyana Margolin, Released Guantanamo Kuwaitis Main-
tain Innocence, Oppose Use of US Evidence, Feb. 7, 2005, http://jurist.law.pitt
.edu/paperchase/2005/02/kuwaiti-detainees-say-they-made-false.php. See also Moamen al
Masri, Lawyers Bid to Exclude Gitmo Transcripts, Arab Times, Apr. 10, 2006, http://
www.cageprisoners.com/articles.php?id=13330.
31 See Khaled al-Odah, supra note 19; Rajiv Chandrasekaran. A ˜Ticking Time Bomb™

Goes Off, Washington Post, February 23, 2009 at A01, http://www.washingtonpost.com/
wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/22/AR2009022202384.html.
32 See Khaled al-Odah, supra note 19.
129
THE MIDDLE EASTERN GAZE ON AMERICAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITMENTS


writing, “these reports are not serious and are not worth consideration,”
and “we do not feel comfortable trusting them.”33 All of the detainees were
acquitted of the charges by the Kuwaiti courts. The prosecutor appealed,
but the Kuwaiti Supreme Court ultimately upheld the lower court decision,
agreeing that there was not enough evidence to convict the former Guan-
tanamo detainees.34
The Kuwaiti prosecutions (as well as number of other trials of released
Guantanamo detainees in other Middle Eastern countries) added yet another
dimension to the recon¬guration of the East/West geography that the human
rights era had produced. Instead of American courts considering foreign
human rights violations and granting victims rights denied to them abroad,
it was a Middle Eastern court that was considering American human rights
violations and granting victims their due process rights denied by the United
States. At the conclusion of the second set of trials, Khaled al-Odah was
widely interviewed. His statement regarding the fate of the four Kuwaiti
detainees remaining in Guantanamo is revealing: “We call on the United
States to either give our four sons a fair trial in America or any other place
in the world, or to hand them to Kuwait so that they can be . . . given their
legal right to defend themselves.”35


AMERICANS TEACHING/LEARNING HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Middle Easterners felt an immense sense of indignation and injustice in wit-
nessing the United States™ not only violating such core international human
rights norms as the prohibitions on torture and provisions of due process,
and not only blatantly co-opting human rights discourses to further policies
wrecking havoc in the region, but also pursuing both courses simultaneously.
As a result, in virtually every step American of¬cials took to teach and preach
human rights, they encountered a Middle Eastern lesson on the same topic.
The challenge to usually low-level and (when they ventured beyond desig-
nated safe audiences) higher-level American of¬cials came in the course of
American human right promotion initiatives, American attempts to bolster
its image in the Middle East, or the frequent convergence of the two.
Perhaps the ¬rst to be confronted with the Middle Eastern rebuke of
U.S. government policies have been American embassy of¬cials in Mid-
dle Eastern countries. Amal Basha recounted one such encounter. Basha

33 See Rajiv Chandrasekaran, supra note 31.
34 Jurist Legal News and Research, Holly Manges Jones, Kuwait High Court Upholds Ac-
quittals of Former Guantanamo Detainees, Jan. 22, 2006, http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/
paperchase/2006/07/kuwait-high-court-upholds-acquittals.php.
35 Associated Press, Kuwaiti Court Acquits 2 Former Guantanamo Bay Prisoners of Join-

ing al-Qaida in Afghanistan, Int™l. Herald Tribune, Mar. 4, 2007, http://www
.cageprisoners.com/articles.php?id=19262.
130 AFTER ABU GHRAIB


is a con¬dent woman and seasoned activist. She had received a bachelor™s
degree in political science from Cairo and a master™s degree in international
development from the University of Suffolk in England. She worked brie¬‚y
in the Yemeni Ministry of Industry, in the United Nations Development
Programme (UNDP) for nine years, and UNICEF in the run-up to the Beijing
Conference on Women™s Rights before she decided to start her own NGO
dedicated to women™s rights and status issues. Although in her mid-forties,
she wears trendy clothes and an equally trendy shoulder-length hairstyle,
and a spirited Arabic dance song serves as the ring tone for one of her two
cell phones. The day of our interview she wore a colorful scarf around her
shoulders while her head was bare. This alone distinguishes her from 99 per-
cent of the women one encounters publicly in Sana™a, who are fully covered
in black. Despite the fact that her outward appearance sets her apart in this
way, her personality and grasp of Yemeni social dynamics and sensibility
seems to allow her to connect with people throughout the socioreligious
spectrum and across generations. I observed this at a gathering of young
women at her house several days after our interview.
Dodging accidents waiting to happen left and right in Sana™a™s anything-
goes traf¬c as she drove us from a Girl™s Leadership Conference where civil
society members were gathered to her of¬ce, Basha recounted an exchange
with U.S. embassy representatives who had come to observe a regional forum
they had funded through the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI):

In the opening session of the democracy forum, we invited the representatives of the
US Embassy. We invited three people, including the deputy head of mission and he
came and he was one of the speakers in the opening session. And then I made a
critical speech about democracy “ because we had three people who did not come
because of security reasons. . . . I had to also talk about what is happening in Iraq. I
said look, we are really fond of democracy, but you plant democracy with people,
not with tanks, like the Americans are promoting, and he did not like it. I said,
those countries who are promoting democracy should set themselves as examples in
respecting human rights. And I talked about the double standard. And he said, “this
is a women™s [issues] event. If we want to talk about foreign policy we should have
another conference.” He was separating our course and the political issues.36

In Basha™s account, she not only refuses to turn a blind eye to American
human rights abuses but also challenges the American of¬cials™ (and govern-
ment™s) propensity to treat human rights conditions as emanating exclusively
from internal and domestic sources, divorced from American interventions
such as the Iraq War.
When I paid a visit to the Democracy School, its director Jamal Abdullah
al-Shami, a middle-aged man who sports Western professional attire and
a secular demeanor, described a similar encounter between U.S. embassy
of¬cials who had come out to observe American democracy-promotion
36 See Amal Basha, supra note 16.
131
THE MIDDLE EASTERN GAZE ON AMERICAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITMENTS


efforts in action and a number of thirteen- and fourteen-year-old participants
of the NGO™s “Children™s Parliament” initiative, another MEPI-funded
project. As he chronicled it, one young participant asked, “if the United
States always defends human rights, then why is it one of only three states
that has refused to ratify the United Nation Convention on the Rights of
the Child?” The embassy of¬cial responded by describing the complexity
of congressional approval and the barriers posed by federal/state divisions.
According to al-Shami, the children were not convinced, replying, “When
you started the war in Iraq, the Congress immediately agreed. Why did
they?”37 The Democracy School pursued the conversation. A couple of days
after my departure from Yemen, they had arranged for a meeting between a
group of these youth and U.S. embassy representatives to discuss U.S. foreign
policy. In this fashion, what an American politician sitting in Washington
may view as a clear means to demonstrate America™s goodwill and good
intentions (i.e., through inaugurations of American-funded democratization
initiatives featuring Middle Eastern women and children) also turns into
an occasion for the Middle Eastern participants to confront the American
“observers.”
Finally, American embassy of¬cials in Yemen were charged with present-
ing and leading discussions of the U.S. State Department™s Country Reports
on Human Rights Practices. Sa™ad al Gadsi of the Women™s Forum for
Research and Training told me that when the U.S. embassy convened a
meeting to discuss its 2005 report on Yemen with local civil society mem-
bers, it was the American representatives whose governments™ human rights
practices and credentials were interrogated by the Yemeni audience, even
human rights activists who largely agreed with the American assessment
of Yemen™s human rights failings.38 When the topic came up in conversa-
tions at the U.S. embassy, it was abundantly clear that of¬cials involved had
found the meeting trying. A commentary on the State Department reports
in the Egyptian daily, Al-Akhbar captures the tone of the Middle Eastern
challenge:

The report included every place on earth, with the exception of the American prisons
and what is happening inside the United States itself. The Bush administration,
which had the guts to issue this report, itself is involved in inhuman crimes against
the defenseless detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo. It issues laws that
shackle the civil freedoms of its citizens. It also approves weapons shipments to
regimes that have a black human rights record.39

Occasionally, higher-ranking of¬cials visiting the Middle East received
the same treatment on venturing to public forums or meetings with

37 SeeJamal Abdullah al-Shami, supra note 15.
38 Interview with Sa™ad Gedsi, director, the Women™s Forum for Research and Training, in
Sana™a, Yemen (Jan. 12, 2007).
39 Ayman Ju™ma, Human Rights, Al Akhbar Cairo, Apr. 5, 2005.
132 AFTER ABU GHRAIB


journalists or human rights advocates. In an article entitled “Miss Popularity:
Karen Hughes Learns That Winning Muslim Hearts and Minds Requires
Changing US Foreign Policy,” the Houston Chronicle describes the Bush
con¬dant charged with improving the United States™ image in her ¬rst visit
to the Middle East. The piece reports, “In Egypt, opponents of the Mubarak
regime criticized the administration for preaching democracy while support-
ing autocracies such as those in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia,
female students informed Hughes that they were happy not voting or driving
and did not envy the American way of life,” and “in Turkey, female political
activists voiced opposition to Bush™s decision to invade Iraq.”40 The piece
concludes, “If Hughes learned anything on her trip, it is that few Muslims
view the United States as a true champion of peace, freedom and democ-
racy, or an objective broker between Israelis and Palestinians.” In an Arab
News article, Khaled Batar¬ elaborates on a similar encounter with other
high-ranking State Department of¬cials:

I asked two US of¬cials the same question on two different occasions and received the
same response. They were Liz Cheney (Dick Cheney™s daughter), assistant secretary
of state for Middle and Near East, and Lorne W. Craner, assistant secretary of state
for human rights, democracy and labor. Both were supposed to explain why Amer-
ica™s human rights record today is so poor; how the American conscience tolerated
Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib; why the leader of the free world sends prisoners to
dictatorships for torture; why the U.S. kidnaps suspects, ships them to secret prisons
in bases around the world, even without the knowledge of host countries. Without
¬‚inching, the two top of¬cials started by pointing to Arab police states and human
rights records. They were basically saying: “You are in no position to criticize us
on such issues because you fared worse!” Lorne Craner went further to compare
the American justice system with that of the worst Arab and Muslim countries in
his defense of his administration™s treatment of Muslim and Arab prisoners. He also
compared citizen rights in America to ours. The argument goes like this: “Before you
point a ¬nger at our systems take a minute to examine yours! We are still way ahead
of you. Learn and follow. Once you are our equals, then you may be quali¬ed to
discuss our shortcomings!”

“So now you are comparing your superpower, world-leader nation with our Third
World countries?” I answered in disbelief. “If so, who are you to preach to us? If we
now refer to the same value system, then please come down from your high moral
ground and stop showing us the way.”41

Human Rights advocates I interviewed in both Yemen and Jordan also indi-
cated that from time to time they received visits from American congressional
or State Department delegations. Shaher Bak the commissioner general of

40 Miss Popularity, Houston Chronicle, Oct. 5, 2005, http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/
ssistory.mpl/editorial/3384161.
41 Khaled Batar¬, Wrong Comparison, America! Jedda Arab News, Mar. 11, 2007.
133
THE MIDDLE EASTERN GAZE ON AMERICAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITMENTS


Jordan™s National Center for Human Rights said that when such delega-
tions visited, it was his duty to explain the circumstance of human rights
in Jordan and tell them that “what they are doing is wrong,” and it is not
helping local rights promotion efforts.42 Khaled Alanesi and Mohammad
Naji Allaw of HOOD indicated that on similar occasions, they frequently
embarked on critical discussions of American foreign policy and even human
rights conditions in the United States.43
The ¬‚ip side of the interaction between Middle Eastern civil society repre-
sentatives taking shape in the Middle East were similar exchanges emerging
from the State Department hosting Middle Eastern civil society members
in the United States through its International Visitors Program, primarily
for them to experience American democracy and human rights ¬rst hand.
Khaled al-Hamdi was a young Yemeni journalist who took part in the pro-
gram immediately after the 2004 presidential elections. His trip was orga-
nized around the theme of the American electoral process at work and the
journalists attending were encouraged to write articles about the process
once they returned home. As Hamdi recounted, during the program, it was
often the Middle Eastern participants who criticized the American media,
particularly its coverage of the war in Iraq.44 In essence, the Middle Eastern
journalists challenged American formulations of what constitutes press free-
dom and independence in relation to the corporatization of American media.
Jamal Abdullah al-Shami of the Democracy School also brought up his Inter-
national Visitors Program trip in our interview. On several occasions during
the visit, he had sought permission to see Sheik Mohammed Ali Hassan
al-Moayad, a Yemeni man convicted in New York courts of conspiring
and attempting to lend support to al Qaeda and supporting Hamas; both
circumstances surrounding the trial and a seventy-¬ve-year prison sentence
were widely viewed in Yemen as miscarriages of justice. Al-Shami™s request
of access to the prisoner was denied due to the sensitivity of the case. How-
ever, the fact does not detract from the signi¬cance of the dynamic “ a
Middle Eastern human rights activist visiting the United States, ostensibly
to learn about American human rights conventions seeks to see a prisoner,
with the clear implication that he is skeptical of the vetting of American
justice and wishes to investigate further on his own, not unlike U.S.-based
human rights advocates™ agendas in visits to Middle Eastern sites.
Finally, in Afghanistan and Iraq, scores of American bureaucrats and
advocates of the human rights and rule of law initiatives funded by the United
States government set out to introduce American legal models and pro-
mote the implementation of international human rights instruments and
42 Interview with Shaher Bak, Commissioner General of Jordan™s National Center for Human
Rights, in Amman, Jordan (Jun. 28, 2006).
43 See Amira Howeidi, supra note 18.
44 Interview with Khaled al-Hamdi, Yemeni journalist, in Sana™a, Yemen (Jan. 13, 2007).
134 AFTER ABU GHRAIB


standards. In July 2005, about ¬ve hundred Justice Department employees
and contractors were stationed in Iraq,45 with much of their work devoted
to developing Iraqi legal and judicial institutions. Sometimes members of the
military were assigned to such rule of law initiatives. In their efforts to incor-
porate international legal norms within Middle Eastern legal institutions,
Americans involved would themselves sometimes gain increased familiarity
and consciousness of the international legal framework. For example, Major
Sean Watts, who taught at the U.S. Army™s Judge Advocate General School,
stated that he saw U.S. military law increasingly moving in the direction of
human rights law. He explained his prediction by noting that he himself ¬rst
encountered the UN Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Dis-
crimination against Women (CEDAW) in Afghanistan when he was charged
with working with local Afghan of¬cials on the convention.46
All of these encounters stood for the proposition that within virtually
every programmed, scheduled, or budgeted occasion devised by American
government of¬cials or (and, to lesser extent, nonpro¬ts) to “teach” human
rights principles and build human rights structures in the Middle East, the
Americans involved would face some sort of lesson, critique, or impassioned
rejoinder.


THE FUNDING CONUNDRUM

United States development aid and humanitarian assistance programs have
long been viewed as the soft side of American power and considered use-
ful instruments for taking the edge off of U.S. foreign policy by promoting
the United States™ image as a global leader in the spread of human welfare,
rights, and freedom. In the post“September 11th era, the American gov-
ernment again sought to infuse earnestness, benevolence, and elements of
consistency into its Middle East foreign policy by funding various human
rights and democratization initiatives. The Web page introducing the United
States Agency for International Development™s (USAID™s) Branding Guide-
lines candidly lays out the strategy:


Since 9/11, America™s foreign assistance programs have been more fully integrated
into the United States™ National Security Strategy. This elevation to the so-called
“third-D” (development being added to diplomacy and defense) increased the need
for U.S. foreign assistance activities to be more fully identi¬ed in the host country as
being provided “from the American People.” We have been identi¬ed as “America™s


45 Dan Eggen, Attorney General Makes Quick Trip to Iraqi Capital, Washington Post,
Jul. 4, 2005, at A01.
46 Presentation by and conversation with Major Sean Watts at 1st Annual Samuel Dash

Conference on Human Rights, Georgetown Law Center (Apr. 10, 2006).
135
THE MIDDLE EASTERN GAZE ON AMERICAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITMENTS


good-news story” and have been tasked to make our efforts more visible and better
known in the countries where we work.47

Perhaps even more than Americans, Middle Eastern populations and civil
society actors alike are attuned to the instrumental dimensions of Ameri-
can funding of various human rights and democratization initiatives in the
region. This has often meant that Middle Eastern advocates have pursued
avenues to either resist or subvert American attempts to co-opt them through
funding. They have pursued this course primarily in one of two ways: by
refusing U.S. government funding or taking the funding but continuing to
challenge and interrogate American human rights practices and policies at
every opportunity.
The ¬rst response to American attempts to legitimate Middle Eastern
interventions through its ¬nancing of local human rights NGOs “ that of
simply rejecting the funding “ was most predominant in Jordan. As far as I
could observe, the Jordanian Society for Human Rights was clearly starving
for funds. The of¬ce was scantily furnished with plastic lawn-style chairs
and a few desks. On the afternoon I visited, there were no staff other than
the director and Ibrahim al-Sane™ informed me that the fax machine did not
work. Yet he was emphatic in his refusal to accept American government
funds. He said that he had received an offer of funding from Freedom House,
but he knew that the American organization and its funding was tied to the
U.S. State Department and there was no way he could accept such funding
strictly as a matter of principle. The director of a more visibly thriving
Jordanian human rights NGO also indicated that, as a matter of policy,
the NGO did not accept money that could be traced back to the American
government. At some level, she saw the decision as one of maintaining
credibility domestically but also articulated it as a con¬‚ict of interest:

Last year we were working on lobbying and we established a coalition to support the
International Criminal Court, while the US is against it. . . . we were working against
them and they worked against us by signing a (bilateral) agreement. So imagine the
con¬‚ict of interest between us and the States.48

She explained that the NGO sometimes did cooperate with American NGOs.
Just one week earlier they had signed an agreement with the American Bar
Association™s Rule of Law initiative to receive American law school interns.
Yet, as a matter of policy, they refused all funding from American-based
NGOs: “We declare to the public that we don™t accept US money and
we have to be credible on the issue.”49 Francis Abuzayd, the director of

47 U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID Branding, http://www.usaid.gov/
branding/.
48 Interview with Jordanian human rights advocate, in Amman, Jordan (Jun. 4, 2006).
49 Id.
136 AFTER ABU GHRAIB


Freedom House™s Amman of¬ce, revealed that approximately 50 percent of
the Jordanian organizations they wished to fund refused their aid.50
The second approach that was predominate in Yemen encompassed a
willingness to accept U.S. funding of rights projects but to resist American
hegemony as they encountered it. NGO leaders who accepted American
government funds had no illusions about the fact that the money offered to
them served an intended purpose of painting a positive veneer on objection-
able and unjust American policies intimately linked to the region™s human
rights conditions “ that in a sense the American government intended to
enlist them in a public relations and image-boosting campaign. This con-
sciousness was perhaps most evident in my interview of Mohammad Naji
Allaw of HOOD:

We know that human rights are colonial rules. They want people to think that
the West is civilized, while it is not. The West has maintained some civilization in
comparison with developing countries. So they want to justify their use of force
by saying they are taking those developing countries out of the jungles and the
dark ages and get those monkeys according to Darwinism. . . . Today there is an
American colonialism. American colonialism would justify its use of force to their
own populations by saying they are developing these countries. So they have different
NGOs working around the world gathering intelligence. . . . And the horrible thing
is, they have been educating their people that they are the ideal and those people are
just a bunch of savages.51

Although generally the tone adopted was somewhat more diplomatic and
less inclined toward conspiratorial explanations, most of the Middle East-
ern activists accepting American funding shared the underlying premise of
Allaw™s statement. This disposition meant that activists were constantly
occupied by a concern with maintaining their independence (both perceived
and real) and either countering or co-opting American attempts to co-opt
and instrumentalized them. Accordingly they were apt to publicly and pri-
vately challenge American equations whenever an occasion arose. Each indi-
cated that they accepted the funds as long as there were “no conditions”
attached by the Americans. Amal Basha of the Sisters Forum for Human
Rights took up the funding issue extensively in her interview:

Until last year we were boycotting any funding from the State Department. The
SAF door has been knocked on several times by USAID: “Why aren™t you asking
for funding? Why aren™t you submitting proposals?” They came with guidelines for
proposal writing and said, “Just write whatever you want and we are ready.” We
had a lot of debate and discussion. . . . We had a political stance. I mean the [United]
States is an occupying state.

50 Interview with Franscis Abuzayd, Amman of¬ce director, Freedom House, in Amman,
Jordan (Jun. 6, 2006).
51 Interview with Mohammad Naji Allaw, Coordinator, HOOD in Sana™a, Yemen (Jan. 15,

2007).
137
THE MIDDLE EASTERN GAZE ON AMERICAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITMENTS


...
And then we had an internal discussion and we said, “Well every donor has its own
political objectives. We have to be careful. We have to cooperate with any funding
agency that will serve our interests. What is our interest if we work with a MEPI
initiative. Promoting democracy is also a priority for us. You cannot defend human
rights in an oppressive system, in an oppressive regime. If your voice is not heard,
how can you defend your rights?” And then we had a discussion and said, “Ok, this
is our program, 1, 2, 3, 4 . . . .” Because every country is in¬‚uenced by the others, we
said we need to have a regional program so that we can gain support and in¬‚uence in
each country. So we proposed to make a democracy forum for women for the whole
region. So then they come to us and said, “Libya, Sudan, and Syria should not be
part of this.” And I said, “Hey look, this is the type of impositions or conditions that
we don™t really like. This is our program and this is what we want to do. If you don™t
want it, we don™t want MEPI.” I said, “How come you want to promote democracy
and leave holes? We are cooperating with democratic forces . . . how do you want us
to exclude them? I mean, you are on the political level between states, I understand.
But for us, we are a human rights movement, a women™s group, we are feminists. We
need to be all together.” And I said, “that™s ¬ne; we don™t want to apply for MEPI.”
And, you know, the lady, she was very nice. She said, “I completely agree with your
argument, but it is not us, it is not MEPI. It is the Congress that made the conditions
that these countries should be excluded from any assistance.” But she said, “you can
invite these people, you can engage them in your activities . . . I would encourage you
to look for another funding, parallel funding and bring these people.”52

As Basha™s narrative intimates, many activists who decided to accept Amer-
ican funds did so based on a premise that they could at once further their
own human rights agendas and push back against the operation of Amer-
ican power on sensing its edge. Cooperation and criticism stood shoulder
to shoulder. “All of these human rights and civil society organizations,
we cooperate but at the same time we have a critical stance on the US
policies.”53 Thus an unintended result of American funding of and coop-
eration with Middle Eastern NGOs was increased occasion for the type of
argumentation, persuasion, and critique pro¬led in the previous section.
HOOD presents another fascinating case study. As noted, although the
NGO covers a variety of domestic civil and political rights cases, it has
been unique in its active pursuit of Guantanamo cases and U.S. “War on
Terror” policies in Yemen. The directors explain that the reason they can
pursue such cases is that they do not have to rely on outside funding. The
NGO sprang from and is closely af¬liated with Yemen™s largest law ¬rm
(of twenty-three lawyers) and it claims to fund Guantanamo and related
initiatives independent of foreign funding: “You might ask why is HOOD
the only organization talking about those cases and why we are strong is
because we fund ourselves. We don™t need the Americans or the West or
Europe to fund us. So we take some of our own money as lawyers and
52 See Amal Basha, supra note 16.
53 Id.
138 AFTER ABU GHRAIB


spend it on human rights cases.”54 Despite their determination to pursue
and independently fund their own human rights agendas as well as the fact
that Alanesi and, more poignantly, Allaw offer a scathing critique of the
United States government, they welcomed funding from U.S. government
sources, provided it was not accompanied by any conditions and it was
“transparent.”55 “It is good that there is some money spent on freedom and
rights and not all the money is spent on violence and force,” Alanesi adds
with unmistakable sarcasm. The duo seem to adopt a view that prompting
American funding of substantive human rights efforts by an NGO that
does not hesitate to challenge American human rights violations is itself
a subversive act. A week after my interview with the HOOD directors,
a U.S. embassy of¬cial told me that HOOD had applied for and would
likely receive a MEPI grant to review the Yemeni Judicial Authority Law.
Although he had no intention of funding “a Guantanamo Defense Fund,”
he was willing to consider funding HOOD™s domestically focused projects
because the HOOD lawyers were the most respected in the country. “It™s
like al Jazeera. We don™t always like the way they do things, but we are
glad that there is at least one NGO in this country that will stand up to the
government and say ˜you are wrong. You have egg all over your face.™”56
In Jordan, one of the few civil society organizations I came across that did
accept some U.S. funding was a community-based radio station. Amannet
accepted MEPI funding through Freedom House for programs focusing on
women™s rights issues. The station also broadcast parliamentary sessions
live and covered the news with a focus on investigative reporting, placing
reporters in highly populated places like refugee camps and poorer areas
like East Amman: “We try to get away from the government and elite, even
the civil society organization, because these people are after the media to say
we are very active and we do this and that.”57 As a very sharp and articulate
young reporter, Sawsan Zaideh explained the station preferred to focus on
water shortages or unemployment and corruption at the level of municipal
government. Their reporter specializing in human rights issues had famously
taken on undercover stories on conditions in Iraqi and Palestinian refugee
camps. Another project attempted to capture the oral history of Palestinian
refugees.
I took up the question of funding with Zaideh extensively. She explained
that to maintain their independence, Ammannet tried to attract small dona-
tions from a variety of donors for each program. Her program on the
media was sponsored by a Danish NGO. Zaideh told me that taking MEPI

54 See Mohammad Naji Allaw, supra note 51.
55 Id.
56 Interview
with U.S. embassy of¬cial (I), in Sana™a, Yemen (Jan. 23, 2007).
57 Interviewwith Sawsan Zaideh, journalist for Ammannet Radio, in Amman, Jordan (Jun.
28, 2006).
139
THE MIDDLE EASTERN GAZE ON AMERICAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITMENTS


funding for the women™s issues program had not been a subject of contention
because of the station™s commitment to maintaining its independence:
What we believe here, we don™t mind to have money from the US government, but
it is conditioned not to have any kind of interference, any kind of trying to impose
agenda on us. Because we believe that there are a number of projects funded by the
US government and they have political agendas, in our case, we are open to everyone,
but you can™t interfere, you can™t impose.58

She argued that Jordanians could differentiate between NGOs that took on
Western priorities and groups that dealt with “what matters to people.”
Nonetheless, she admitted that the station had little motivation to promi-
nently display the MEPI logo on their Web site, as per the U.S. government™s
“branding” requirements for receiving the funding:
Freedom House is funded by MEPI which is US government. What we did on the
homepage of the program “ I call it manipulation to be honest “ but it™s like you
justify your manipulation by your good intentions. So we keep the logo small, but
we acknowledge Freedom House because they are doing a very good job in Jordan.
But MEPI, it is known by people that it is governmental. . . . It is politicized and it
is linked to the Bush administration, not any American administration. That™s why
people are sensitive to MEPI in particular. People here are clever.59

Middle Eastern NGOs™ repeated reference to maintaining independence
(actual and perceived) is rooted both in a broader and more long-standing
concern that by accepting Western funding developing world NGOs become
beholden to Western priorities, protocols, and approaches and in concerns
particular to the Middle Eastern context, given the contemporary posture
and role of the United States in the region. There can be little doubt that at
some level Western priorities and prescriptions will overshadow local ones;
however, I was surprised to ¬nd that most of the Middle Eastern activists
I interviewed did not identify this as a pressing problem. Although Zaideh
referred to the disconnect between Jordanians™ human rights priorities and
foreign donors™ zeal to focus on issues such as honor killings, she had only
praise to offer Freedom House for its deference to Ammannet™s own prior-
ities and direction. Zaideh™s account matched that of Francis Abuzeyd, the
Director of Freedom House™s Amman of¬ce, who had in an earlier interview
displayed an acute awareness of the widespread skepticism and legitimacy
de¬cits with which the nonpro¬t organization, created and funded by the
United States government and, at various junctures, af¬liated with such
in¬‚ammatory ¬gures as Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, operated.
Accordingly, she placed considerable emphasis on Freedom House™s policy
of going out of its way to allow local partners™ to establish priorities and
develop projects around those priorities.
58 Id.
59 Id.
140 AFTER ABU GHRAIB


Overall, the Ammannet example paints a fascinating picture. To appear
consistent with the human rights and democratization rhetoric it has tapped
into, particularly elements that espouse tolerance for criticism and diverging
views, the United States government ends up funding an organization whose
work in substance bears little of the United States™ imprint. Although there
are few overt criticisms of U.S. policies on the air, the programming largely
diverges from any kind of American script on rights issues, including its
treatment of women™s rights. The station instead often highlights Palestinian
and Iraqi refugees™ rights and suffering and its understanding of human
rights is ¬rmly centered around economic and social rights in stark contrast
to the American conception of human rights. Again Zaideh™s comments are
instructive:

What™s supposed to be the basic needs [sic] is supposed to be part of human rights,
the education, the accommodation “ all these things. After the American double
standard, people started to mix these things. Because they started to feel that their
daily needs, their basic needs is something different from human rights. Human
rights just means you are allowed to say whatever you want to media. This is the
way even that they are promoting human rights and democracy “ not having prisons,
freedom of expression, that women are completely free, but not your food, clothes,
education, accommodation. You know what I mean because the Americans are not
talking about these things. They are talking about just like limited parts and this
is I believe the double standard because at the same time they are calling for free
speech, they are collaborating with the government which is the main problem for
the people in providing them with their basic needs. For example, America, the
US administration is pushing governments for more free speech, but they are not
pushing governments to be more accountable or to provide people their basic needs,
to change their economic policies, for example. Even when I think deeply about it,
there is a real contradiction between human rights and the capitalist system. They
don™t coexist.60

The fundamental challenge mirrors, for example, HOOD™s pursuance of
Guantanamo detention cases, or the tenor of the Democracy School™s Chil-
dren™s Parliament distribution of ¬‚yers alleging American human rights
abuses at Guantanamo Bay, while simultaneously accepting American fund-
ing. Although it is likely that most Middle Eastern NGOs making use of
American funding have little choice but to decry American human rights
practices and “double standards” to maintain their domestic legitimacy, the
activism and discourses employed by the NGOs pro¬led clearly went beyond
obligatory or strategic denunciations, making it very dif¬cult to singularly
categorize them as passive instruments of U.S. foreign policy. No doubt
that at some level they do serve an instrumental function. However, aware
that the United States needs them to sell the compassionate and benevo-
lent hegemon image as much as they need funding, many Middle Eastern
60 Id.
141
THE MIDDLE EASTERN GAZE ON AMERICAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITMENTS


NGOs accepting American funds are able to negotiate considerable latitude
in pursuing their agendas, with the threat of simply rejecting U.S. funding
as leverage. As a result, American government funders become increasingly
resigned to the “no conditions” parameters (even if in practice they are more
relative than absolute). Through the process, the United States loses more
and more control over which human rights agendas, messages, and voices
its funding strengthens.


ASSESSING THE IMPACT OF THE MIDDLE EASTERN RESPONSE

Mirroring the outcome of American and Middle Eastern human rights
trajectories charted in Chapters 2 and 4, the Middle Eastern response to
the American human rights posture following September 11th was at once
groundbreaking and de¬cient. Perhaps one its most basic achievements was
its af¬rmation of the proposition that despite its unparalleled material power
and relentless efforts to reproduce the “America as human rights guardian”
narrative through various public relations campaigns, funding initiatives,
and other efforts to win “hearts and minds,” the United States was simply
unable to shape the Middle Eastern perception of its policies, actions, and
intentions in the post“September 11th era. The Washington Post™s Phillip
Kennicott provided a powerful commentary to this effect in the days follow-
ing the publication of the Abu Ghraib photos:

On the streets of Cairo, men pore over a newspaper. An icon appears on the front
page: a hooded man, in a rug-like poncho, standing with his arms out like Christ,
wires attached to the hands. He is faceless. This is now the image of the war. In this
country, perhaps it will have some competition from the statue of Saddam Hussein
being toppled. Everywhere else, everywhere America is hated (and that™s a very large
part of this globe), the hooded, wired, faceless man of Abu Ghraib is this war™s new
mascot. The American leaders™ response is a mixture of public disgust, and a good
deal of resentment that they have, through these images, lost control of the ultimate
image of the war.61

American human rights violations and the ever-present accusation of
“double-standards” was placed centrally in the consciousness of the Mid-
dle Eastern actors, even among those accepting American funds for their
human rights initiatives. Thus, at the most fundamental level, the Middle
Eastern challenge to the United States is one that simply rejects American
deployments of power through productions of knowledge in accordance
with long-standing subjectivities roughly paralleling the core assumptions
of the human rights paradigm™s East/West geography.
61 Phillip
Kennicott, A Wretched New Picture of America: Photos from Iraq Show We Are
Our Worst Enemy, Washington Post, May 5, 2004, at C01.
142 AFTER ABU GHRAIB


In addition, the forms of resistance pro¬led in this chapter all shared
a common element of holding power to account “ again, often employing
the emancipatory underpinnings of the human rights framework. Through
mobilizations against American human rights violations, through constant
assertions of the contradictions between American human rights and free-
dom rhetoric and American alliances with some of the region™s repressive
regimes, and even through putting American funding to use in furtherance of
their human rights agendas, Middle Eastern actors attempted to transform
oblique American appropriations into more tangible human rights advances.
However, if each of the forms of resistance presented in this chapter are
examined more closely, gains can be only be described as mixed. The human
rights mobilizations directed from the Middle East to the United States laid
out at the beginning of the chapter were signi¬cant due to their modest
inroads toward diversifying and expanding the ¬‚ow of global human rights
traf¬c. Ironically, these efforts were limited in scope and, consequently,
impact as a result of inadequate funding. Beyond the United States gov-
ernment whose refusal to fund such human rights campaigns was to be
expected, other international and Western funders seemed to encourage
Middle Eastern NGO initiatives that looked inward. It was more dif¬cult
for them to envision Middle Eastern NGOs undertaking serious initiatives
that expanded their focus beyond local contexts. Challenging the United
States™ transgression would be considered a task best left to the big Western-
based actors. As a result, because funding was not readily available for such
efforts, only a handful of Middle Eastern human rights groups devoted sub-
stantial time and effort to the projects challenging American human rights
violations. Coordination of the disparate efforts taking shape was also seri-
ously de¬cient and to the extent it did take shape, it too often sprang out of
efforts instituted in New York or London. Local efforts were often ad hoc
and scattered. As a result, there was no concrete infrastructure for East-to-
West human rights activities put in place despite the era™s groundbreaking
rise in disparate efforts to that end. One sign of this was that the Yemeni
NGO committee developed to pursue American abuses in Guantanamo and
Abu Ghraib seemed to have dissipated or become effectively inactive by
the time of my visit in January 2007. These circumstances shed consider-
able light on the connections between global sources of funding and the
prospects of developing world NGOs™ capacity to meaningfully challenge
the East/West human rights geography.
Despite their undeniable limits, the mobilizations that did take shape can
set an important precedent and potentially paved the way for expanded
efforts focusing on Western human rights transgressions in the future.
This is because though they were limited, the steps taken by NGOs such
as HOOD pushed the notion of Middle Eastern actors monitoring and
mobilizing against American human rights violations (beyond rhetorical
143
THE MIDDLE EASTERN GAZE ON AMERICAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITMENTS


denunciations) past a conceptual and psychological threshold, moving from
the realm of the unimaginable to the realm of the possible, ¬tting and appro-
priate in the minds of many Middle Eastern civil society actors and Western
audiences alike.
Assessing the impact of the innumerable Middle Eastern critiques posed
in the countless personal exchanges and interactions among American gov-
ernment of¬cials, journalists, advocates, soldiers, and citizens and the same
Middle Eastern actor in the post“September 11th era is equally complex. The
idea that the teacher/pupil dynamic in which American previously placed so
much faith had gone into disarray was frequently evoked in editorials and
commentaries. Thomas Friedman captured what many Americans saw as
“the new warped reality” in a column in The New York Times entitled
“Leading by (Bad) Example.”62 In the piece, he described a delegation of
Iraqi judges and journalists abruptly leaving the United States, “cutting short
its visit to study the workings of American democracy.” The delegation is
appalled by witnessing George W. Bush link his Supreme Court nomination
of Harriet Miers to her religious credentials, hearing that soldiers participat-
ing in a televised question-and-answer session with the American president
were coached on what to say, a practice used by their own authoritarian
leaders, and seeing George Bush defend “his right” to authorize torture, with
one delegate declaring, “We are going home now because I don™t want our
delegation corrupted by all this American right-to-torture talk.™™ Freidman
concludes by admitting that the story he detailed is a “fake news story”
but is sorry that “it is so true.” Friedman™s commentary stood as one of
many American acknowledgments of the Middle Eastern gaze, as well as the
now-blurred line between global teacher and pupils in matters accorded the
human rights and democracy caption, a line many Americans, including the
author, longed to be reinstituted.
At some level, Americans government of¬cials charged with executing
and defending American post“September 11th human rights policies also
displayed consciousness of the Middle Eastern challenge and its validity. The
2006 State Department Human Rights Country Report begins by noting,
“We recognize that we are writing this report at a time when our own record
and response to terrorist actions taken against us have been questioned.”63
In denying American interference with the Yemeni government™s decisions
to keep Yemeni citizens released from Guantanamo in detention locally,
one U.S. embassy of¬cial mumbled, “Frankly, they are getting fairer treat-
ment here than they were in our hands.” Another embassy of¬cial offered,
“Guantanamo has done a lot of damage to public opinion about the United
62 Thomas Freidman, Leading by Bad Example, N.Y. Times, Oct, 18, 2005, http://select
.nytimes.com/2005/10/19/opinion/19friedman.html?_r=1.
63 “Introduction” 2006 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, available at http://www

.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2006/.
144 AFTER ABU GHRAIB


States in Yemen. There™s no question about that and I think anybody would
recognize that. It™s the kind of thing that makes us look just like the regimes
we are criticizing.”64
Yet, as was commonplace among American of¬cials spanning the ranks,
just as soon as he had conceded the parallel, he proceeded to qualify it:

What I try to point out to people, however, is that we are not just like the other
regimes. First of all these detainees are not dead. Second, they do have access to the
ICRC. There is some argument going on within the US legal community about what
happens to them and what rights they should have under the Constitution . . . that
would not be allowed to happen within a lot of other countries. People should give
us slack and allow us to work within it. That said, they are free to criticize us and
they should feel free to do so.65

Elsewhere when I asked directly about the critiques of American human
rights policies he encounters, he stated:

A lot of them are almost nonsensical. That is why I start out each of my talks with a
quick sketch of American civics. I explain that this is how the American government
is structured and this is how decisions are made. It™s not a conspiracy theory. It™s not
three guys in a backroom somewhere. Congress really does have power. The supreme
court really does have power. A lot of times I introduce the topics myself. . . . I™ll bring
up the subject of Guantanamo, for example, and say you didn™t like it. A lot of people
in America didn™t like it. They challenged it. They went to the Supreme Court and
the Supreme Court said the president™s policy for detainees is wrong. This policy is
now dead and the administration and the Congress had to come up with something
else. Now, you may not agree with that either. A lot of people in the states may not
agree with it but there is a system for us to make these changes. And a lot of times I
get big smiles and people come and say, “I kind of wish it was like that here.” And
that™s the point I™m trying to make “ that we are not perfect but there is a system
there and it™s not just the whims of the few that drive what our country does. We
make decisions based on what we consider to be our national interest.66

First, as in Khaled Batar¬ account of his exchange with senior State Depart-
ment of¬cials, U.S. of¬cials remained ¬rmly committed to their espoused
position within global human rights hierarchies. The sentiment as Batar¬
described was indeed one of “Before you point a ¬nger at our systems take
a minute to examine yours! We are still way ahead of you. Learn and fol-
low. Once you are our equals, then you may be quali¬ed to discuss our
shortcomings!”67 Within the formulation, Middle Eastern critics (even if
they are journalists or human rights activists) were discredited through asso-
ciation with their oppressive regimes (and most likely, in an unstated fash-
ion, to their oppressive cultures). Their ability to put forth serious human
64 See U.S. embassy of¬cial, supra note 56.
65 See U.S. embassy of¬cial, supra note 56.
66 See U.S. embassy of¬cial, supra note 56.
67 Khaled Batar¬, Wrong Comparison, America!, Jedda Arab News, Mar. 11, 2007.
145
THE MIDDLE EASTERN GAZE ON AMERICAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITMENTS


rights challenges was accordingly con¬ned to the realm of human rights
violations emanating from discrete internal sources. Second, there was a
sense that allowing Middle Eastern critique of American practices was an
exercise, lesson, or demonstration of American-style tolerance and mastery
of democratic precepts. The type of assumption of a higher moral author-
ity and “leader of the free world” designation never wavered. Thus, once
appointed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales still made repeated trips to
Iraq to observe U.S. Justice Department efforts to develop the Iraqi legal
system and even met with the Iraqi Ministers of Interior and Human Rights
(again, as an overseer), despite his key role in setting the legal groundwork
for the era™s various cases of torture and abuse in American-ruled prisons.
In the ¬nal analysis, although U.S. of¬cials were conscious of the Middle
Eastern indictment of their policies, most were rarely moved or persuaded by
it. Concessions materializing arose primarily out of a concern over damage
to American interests caused by Middle Eastern “perceptions” of United
States policies. El Obaid El Obaid, was a young Canadian-Sudanese legal
scholar who had moved from Montreal to Sana™a to head up the UNDP™s
Yemen human rights initiative. He faulted the substance and essence of the
Middle Eastern critique:

First of all, they (US of¬cials) don™t get a good dose of critique, but they are com-
fortable when they get the conspiracy theories and when they get the sweeping
indictments . . . the problem I am having here is there is hardly any sophisticated cri-
tique. There™s hardly any critique that actually bugs the Americans. So that critique
comes from Westerners or somebody who is a foreigner . . . but from the locals, it™s
either conspiracy theories, or its red carpets, some people who make critiques but at
the same time, they are quite eager to please.68

El Obaid is correct in noting that the prevalent infusion of conspiracy theo-
ries and sweeping indictments woven into many Middle Eastern challenges
to American policies provide American of¬cials with an easy way to dis-
miss Middle Eastern critiques altogether; this is clearly displayed in the
U.S. embassy of¬cial quoted above™s labeling of the critiques he encoun-
ters as “almost nonsensical.” However, my ¬eld research does not support
El Obaid™s broader position that a solid and forceful Middle Eastern cri-
tique never took shape. Middle Eastern voices consistently highlighted the
litany of contradictions marking the American position vis-a-vis human
`
rights in the post“September 11th era: the tremendous gaps between prac-
tice and rhetoric, the gaping holes in American conceptions of rights, and
the various ways its power and interests usurped the normative motivations
asserted. Although they were not articulated in the same legalistic terms

68 Interview with El Obaid El Obaid, UNDP, Chief Technical Advisor, UNDP Human Rights
Project in Yemen in Sana™a, Yemen (Jan. 24, 2007).
146 AFTER ABU GHRAIB


many Western-based challenges took, the moral and rational grounding of
the Middle Eastern argument was ¬rm.
I would contend that the limited impact of the Middle Eastern critique
can in large part be attributed to the continued operation of power rela-
tions, facilitated by the hierarchies embedded in prevailing human rights
discourses. An article by Thomas Risse, one of the few constructivist schol-
ars whose work considers the effects of international power relations on
processes of argumentation and communication, illuminates further. Using
Habermas™s critical theory of communication, Risse ¬nds that actors can
theoretically engage in a “logic of argumentation” or truth-seeking to pass
judgment on or justify applications of international norms.69 Even when
arguments are strategic, a consequentialist logic prevails, and actors embark
on the process without any openness to being persuaded; movement toward
the “logic of argumentation” is still possible, as these actors must formu-
late ever more sophisticated responses to challenges and justi¬cations for
the positions they maintain. Following Habermas, as ideal preconditions for
rational argumentation Risse cites actors recognizing each other as equals
and each side™s equal access to a public discourse for those participating.
Although conceding that these ideal preconditions are rarely in existence, he
maintains that power relations need not impact the boundaries and content
of argumentation absolutely. He points to evidence from psychology to con-
tend that “biased or self-interested communicators are far less persuasive
than those who are perceived to be neutral or motivated by moral values.”70
So those who wish to limit their discourse to strategic rhetoric will quickly
learn that others will not be willing to buy it and will thus eventually be
forced in the direction of engaging in more meaningful forms of argumenta-
tion. Risse proposes that the real issue is not whether “power relations are
absent in a discourse, but to what extent they can explain the argumentative
outcome.”71 To answer the latter question, Risse offers several criteria. In
Risse™s view, if these conditions are generally favorable, even absent an ideal
speech situation, truth-seeking can take place to varying degrees. The ¬rst
criteria Risse lists is “Whether conditions of nonhierarchy are maintained
69 Thomas Risse, ˜Let™s Argue!™: Communicative Action in World Politics, 54:1 Int™l Org. 9“
10. (2000). In responding to the validity claims in each others™ assertions, parties are forced
into an exercise of argumentation that facilitates persuasion and diminished the impact
of interference from power relations and social hierarchies between the parties: “Where
argumentative rationality prevails, actors do not seek to maximize or to satisfy their given
interests and preferences, but to challenge and to justify the validity claims inherent in them “
and they are prepared to change their view of the world or even their interests in light of
the better argument.” The three primary types of validity claims Risse identi¬es are those
that concern the truth of assertions made, those that focus on the moral rightness of the
norm™s underlying arguments, and those that concern the truthfulness and authenticity of
the speaker.
70 Id. at 17.
71 Id. at 18.
147
THE MIDDLE EASTERN GAZE ON AMERICAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITMENTS


such that actors reframe from making use of their rank or status in order to
make arguments.”72
Applying Risse™s theoretical insights, it can be argued that although the
imbalance of power did not absolutely bar Middle Eastern critiques of the
United States from having an impact, the processes of argumentation and
shaming that did take shape remained considerably limited by American gov-
ernment of¬cials™ persistent adherence to an entrenched hierarchy according
them a superior status in matters relating to human rights. There are several
reasons for this, including reasons rooted in the ideology and even psychol-
ogy of Bush administration of¬cials. However, it cannot be denied that one
of the biggest determinants of the American posture was its facilitation by
the enduring terms and tenets of the East/West human rights geography.
One side simply enjoyed greater access to the discourse around which the
debate was centered. Thus, in a circular fashion, the impact of the Middle
Eastern critique being waged was abated by the very power-laden normative
formulations it sought to challenge.
The ¬nal Middle Eastern challenge pro¬led “ that of civil society
NGOs™ treatment of American funding fared only slightly better. In refus-
ing to accept American money, Middle Eastern NGOs took a near certain
path toward preventing their co-option and disrupting American strategies
designed to spread “America™s good news story.” It was clear from the ¬eld
research conducted that as a result of the high incidence of NGOs refusing
their sponsorship, American funders became sensitized to local NGOs™ con-
stant threat to simply pull out and were (at least to some extent) forced to be
more accommodating in who they funded and under what terms. Further, in
the case of those NGOs that did accept American funding, the collaboration
could easily turn into a kind of mutual co-option, in which the human rights
group used American money for projects with objectives coinciding that
American goals and/or rhetoric but left other resources (at the very least,
time and effort) aside for projects that challenged American human rights
policies and prescriptions.
Still, despite the many elements of resistance and subversion present, at its
roots, the fact that large segments of the Middle Eastern human rights NGO
sector accepted and were in fact dependent on American funding remained
problematic and limited the impact of whatever challenge was being posed.
As long as Middle Eastern NGOs were accepting funds from the United
States government, American of¬cials could either come to believe or frame
the fact as an endorsement of their espoused role as global human rights
invigilator, teacher, and guardian. After all, what could ¬t better into the
narrative of the traditional East/West hierarchy of human rights than the
United States™ ¬nancial sponsorship of Middle Eastern NGOs? The essence

72 Id. at 19.
148 AFTER ABU GHRAIB


of the type of dynamic involved comes through in comments made by State
Department of¬cial Gretchen Birkle in presenting the 2004 State Department
Human Rights Country Reports. When questioned about Abu Ghraib, she
poses the rhetorical question:

As a result of that [Abu Ghraib], would it be better if we just turned inward and
stopped working with other governments and other NGOs on the human rights
situation? I think the answer to that is no. We have received much information
and much encouragement from folks in the ¬eld, many in your countries, who are
encouraging us to continue our work. And I think that really addresses how we felt
about writing these reports.73

In the same fashion, that NGOs embrace of American-funded initiatives
can easily be interpreted by U.S. of¬cials as an indicator that the United
States™ leadership (even in its post-September 11th constitution) is wanted
and needed. As Chapters 4 and 5 discuss, the question of whether and what
form of American leadership and interventions are effective and needed is a
complex and multifaceted one. However, the fact remains that such fund-
ing combined with the operation of power dynamics discussed above also
reinforces and permits American of¬cials to slip comfortably into tradi-
tional mentorship roles. These dynamics and the ensuing casual treatment
of Middle Eastern challenges came out in my discussion with one of the U.S.
embassy of¬cials interviewed in Yemen:

There is a genuine civil society movement in the Arab world, where men and women
are forming organizations and lobbying for liberalizing their regimes and we are
working with those forces. We are not imposing anything. Its not one sided; it™s
a two-way thing. Sometimes these groups and the governments we work with do
point to Abu Ghraib and say this is inconsistent; you do this and then you come
here to talk to us about. . . . I had this personally in Morocco a few years back when
the bombing of Afghanistan took place. We were in the process of spending some
democracy money with some civil society groups and I had a four-hour session
over an iftar (meal to break the daily fast during the month of Ramadan). They
had decided not to take our money to protest our policies in the Middle East and
Afghanistan. I had a long discussion with them and said let™s deal with the issues that
you are specialized in and that are mutual interests and where we don™t disagree. We
are talking about human rights in Morocco. We are talking about women™s rights,
democracy-building, all of which we agree on and we have some money to help you
do what you want to do. So if you don™t like what we are doing in Afghanistan
or Palestine, criticize us on that but work with us on what you agree with. Don™t
boycott us on things that are of bene¬t to you . . . if a civil society group feels strongly
about the Palestinian issue, I ask them, “Do any one of you specialize on the Palestine
issue?” No; no one had Palestine in their name. “Have any of you done the research
on the different peace plans proposed “ any speci¬c views on the roadmap? No. So
73 U.S.
Department of State, press conference held by Gretchen Birkle, senior coordinator,
Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Bureau of Democracy Human Rights and Labor,
Washington, DC (Feb. 28, 2005), available at http://fpc.state.gov/fpc/42855.htm.
149
THE MIDDLE EASTERN GAZE ON AMERICAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITMENTS


why are you cramming this into our discussion of civil society and democracy? The
reasons what is happening in Palestine is happening have nothing to do with them
probably? And if you want to send a letter of protest to the American government,
send a letter of protest.”74

When it comes to their work within domestic contexts, Middle Eastern
NGOs and civil society are depicted as formidable agents of change and
their critiques are rhetorically welcomed. However, the of¬cial™s response
to the critiques pertaining to American policies is imbued with trivialization
of both the charges and the groups posing the critiques. The interaction
is clearly structured by the U.S. of¬cial™s position as patron, although the
NGOs™ threat to refuse funding remains a powerful response.


CONCLUSION

Developments following September 11th gave rise to several forms of resis-
tance and challenge directed at American policies by Middle Eastern civil
society actors. These efforts were signi¬cant primarily for the way they
altered the landscape and ¬‚ow of global human rights engagements and the
important precedents they set for movement in that direction in the future.
In relation to global power dynamics, more than anything the dynamics
detailed in this chapter speak to the misguidedness of zero-sum conceptions
of the operation of power during the era. Neither the American exercises
of power nor the Middle Eastern attempts to circumvent it through the
human rights medium prevailed in any absolute terms. Instead, human rights
remained a site of struggle in the encounter between the two contexts, ¬rmly
positioned between hegemony and emancipation.

74 Interview with U.S. embassy of¬cial (II), in Sana™a, Yemen (Jan. 23, 2007).
FOUR




American Imprints and the Middle East™s
New Human Rights Landscape




In the post“September 11 era, the Middle East stood at the center of Amer-
ican experiments with both the violation and promotion of international
human rights norms. This chapter traces how the Middle East™s human
rights landscape was transformed through the chain of events set in motion
by these American experiments. The chapter begins by considering the con-
tradictory effects of American post“September 11th human rights transgres-
sions “ the new prism through which the international legal system came
to be ¬ltered in the Middle East “ on human rights consciousness in the
region. The chapter then turns its attention to the American reform agenda,
its co-opting by Middle Eastern governments, and its tentative openings for
moving the Middle Eastern human rights project forward. The ¬nal section
highlights transformations emerging from the con¬‚uence of both Ameri-
can abuses and promotion initiatives within the realm of religious/secular
dynamics in the Middle East™s human rights ¬eld. By assembling a string of
empirical snapshots re¬‚ecting Middle Eastern voices and experiences during
the era, the chapter draws a picture of the period as characterized by consid-
erable engagement, ¬‚ux, and transformation “ at some junctures regressive
or illusory, at others tangible and far-reaching “ amid the backdrop of its
successive human rights failings.


HUMAN RIGHTS THROUGH THE PRISM OF AMERICAN VIOLATIONS

An immense sense of disillusionment and false promise has pervaded the
Middle Eastern encounter with human rights in the post“September 11th
era. If prior to September 11th, the Palestinian condition had made it dif¬-
cult for Middle Easterners to place faith in the international human rights
regime™s promise, after September 11th, the war and occupation of Iraq,
Guantanamo Bay accounts, Abu Ghraib images, and CIA black sites, all
with their inescapable racial and anti-Muslim undertones, moved human

150
151
THE MIDDLE EAST™S NEW HUMAN RIGHTS LANDSCAPE


rights even farther away from Middle Easterners™ lived experience of justice
and dignity.
Of the cases of abuse and torture at the hands of the American govern-
ment uncovered, Abu Ghraib in particular was etched in Middle Easterners™
consciousness. It served at once as proof and analogy of Iraqi (and by exten-
sion Middle Eastern) subjugation, disempowerment, and suffering. Ismail
Daud, an Iraqi activist working in Amman, described the episode as simul-
taneously providing a window into the Iraqi experience of denials of dignity
and casting a dark shadow over the human rights ideal:

First of all, what happened in Abu Ghraib, it may be strange for you, but for Iraqis
themselves, we were aware about these actions. They are living it. The random
shooting and killing civilians is usual thing in daily life in Iraq. So it was not strange.
It was strong because it™s documented in pictures. . . . These kinds of actions are the
main reasons why people don™t trust human rights anymore, speaking about human
rights. It was the truth, but nothing new for Iraqis. They realize from the beginning
there were thousands of Iraqis detained and they tell you stories that are very bad. But
Abu Ghraib was the document. Not the only document, but the published document,
because we also document stories of violations from the beginning, but it has not
been widely published like the Abu Ghraib story . . . it re¬‚ects badly on the idea of
human rights in Iraq.1

For Middle Easterners who widely identi¬ed with and in fact lived the Abu
Ghraib scandal through its elaborate media coverage, the episode™s use of
dogs, sexual violence, and humiliation targeting Middle Eastern cultural
and religious sensibilities told of the international power asymmetries and
hierarchies at play. An Egyptian professor quoted in Al-Ahram asked: “I
wonder if the pictures are deliberate: a message to the Arabs that summarizes
an opinion: This is what we think of you, this is what you deserve.”2 An
editorial in the Doha Gulf times argued, “The torture in Abu Ghraib is
symptomatic of a wider disease. A subconscious belief that all Arabs and
Muslims are evil terrorists who deserve what they get. In armies, ignorance,
racism, and brutality go hand in hand.”3
After Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo shaped post“September 11th Middle
Eastern consciousness surrounding notions of human rights and justice. In
contrast to Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo™s presence was a constant in the post“
September 11th period, enduring year after year. It was also of¬cial policy
for which the American government made no apologies. As such it served as
an incessant and unequivocal reminder of the gaping discrepancy between
the standards of justice applied to Arab and Muslims and those Americans
1 Interview with Ismail Daud, Iraqi human rights activist, working with the Italian NGO Un
Ponte Per, in Amman, Jordan (Jun. 26, 2006).
2 Al-Ahram Weekly Online, Amira Howeidy, One Law for US, May 13“19, 2004, http://

weekly.ahram.org.eg/2004/690/fr2.htm.
3 Editorial, Brutality a Symptom of Ingrained Racism, Doha Gulf Times, May 1, 2004.
152 AFTER ABU GHRAIB


claimed for themselves. To many in the Middle East, the fact that detainees
were taken to Guantanamo so that they could be treated “in a way that
would not be allowed in US Soil”4 demonstrated the hierarchy and dis-
crimination embedded in American™s practice of human rights. The fact that
international norms could be thwarted with so few repercussions again spoke
to the operation of international power asymmetries. In a statement put out
following the suicide of three detainees, the often ¬ery Arab Lawyers Union
captured the Arab view of the operation of power versus justice re¬‚ected
in Guantanamo™s presence: “All measures of justice are brushed aside in
relations governed by the law of power rather than the power of law.”5
Perhaps even more than the prominent cases of torture and abuse that
took the global spotlight, the Middle Eastern disillusionment with human
rights resulted from witnessing the day-to-day horrors of a war conducted in
violation of international law and then witnessing the immense violence and
human suffering it produced being largely written off as collateral damage
and considered to be within the bounds of humanitarian law. That there was
neither a substantial mobilization nor identi¬able legal recourse to challenge
much of the human toll on Iraqis made the human rights project seem
like an abstraction plagued by a gulf between theory and practice. Where
international human rights and humanitarian organizations did intervene,
their focus on particular American military practices in conducting the war,
rather than the unjust cause of the con¬‚ict, seemed out of place to most
in the Middle East. This was because so much of Iraqis suffering stemmed
not from direct American actions but the violent civil war and chaos the
American intervention had spurred.
At the same time, placed against the backdrop of the immense violence
and insecurity ¬lling Iraqis™ lives, American human rights promotion projects
in Iraq appeared grossly out of touch and disconnected from the country™s
unfolding human tragedy. An Arab activist working on an Iraqi human
rights project in Amman describes the widely felt sense of disconnect among
Iraqis:

If I am an Iraqi living in Iraq and I can™t guarantee that I leave my house in the
morning or my kids go to school in the morning, I can™t be sure we will make it to
the house at the end of the day, why would I care about human rights? So you can™t
really sell human rights to people. . . . The harsh reality makes it a luxury. We can™t
talk to people about human rights when they cannot eat. I mean you advocate that
for people to believe their lives will improve, but when they only see violation of
their own rights it becomes very dif¬cult to target them.6

4 Contempt for Law, Arab News, Feb. 17, 2006.
5 GlobalResearch.ca, ALU calls for Immediate Closure of Guantanamo Detention after the
Suicide of Three Arab Detainees, Jun. 27, 2006, http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?
context=va&aid=2709.
6 Interview with Arab human rights activist, in Amman, Jordan (Jun. 4, 2006).
153
THE MIDDLE EAST™S NEW HUMAN RIGHTS LANDSCAPE


Even Middle Eastern activists observing the phenomenon from a distance

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