When the government of the United States speaks, we speak, and when it acts, we act, because our government is, as President Lincoln put it, “a government of the people, for the people, and by the people.” It is our duty to take full responsibility for what our government says and does on our behalf …
We must take responsibility for our nation’s advocacy of human rights. We champion the equality of all human beings; equal entitlement to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and equal protection from any violation of these entitlements. But what do we do? We are slow to respond to allegations of prisoner abuse by US military and intelligence personnel in Iraq and Cuba and Afghanistan and eastern Europe, we are reluctant to examine fully the broader leadership environment that permits or tolerates or fails to put a stop to such abuse, and we are opposed to signing on to a declaration banning cruel or inhuman or degrading treatment by any agent of the United States government against any person anywhere in the world.
We must take responsibility for our nation’s stand against the proliferation and use of chemical and biological and nuclear weapons. We ask for international censure of other nations who are suspected of developing and stockpiling such weapons. But what do we do? We use a chemical weapon, white phosphorus, in the war in Iraq. We refuse to eliminate our own stockpile of nuclear armaments and we continue to do biological weapons research. And we are the only nation in history to have used a nuclear weapon against a civilian population.
We must take responsibility for our nation’s commitment to the rule of law. We believe that right makes might, not the contrary, and we demand that nations and heads of state abide by the tenets of international law. But what do we do? We invade a sovereign nation without provocation, justifying the unilateral action as a “preemptive strike.”
We must take responsibility … The problem is not with what we say and not with the results we seek to achieve. The isolation and containment of international terrorism is a worthy end. But a worthy end does not justify the use of any means available. If we will do anything to achieve that goal, if we make expections to the code of human rights to protect our own human rights, if we use chemical weapons to take out people we fear may one day use chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction against us, if we unilaterally decide for ourselves who are the “bad guys” and which nations require “regime change,” then we will have by our actions betrayed everything we stand for.
We will have proved that some people are entitled to basic human rights and some are not, that weapons of mass destruction do have a place in this world, and that the only law that matters is the law that says the biggest and strongest gets to make the rules.