Tainted Legacy: 9-11 and the Ruins of Human Rights

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Have human rights as we once understood them become obsolete since 9-11? Aren't new methods needed to combat the apocalyptic violence of al-Qaeda? Shouldn't we sacrifice some rights to make us all safer? And if we can kill a combatant in battle, why shouldn't we torture them if it will save lives? William Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, examines these and other fundamental questions through the prism of our new consciousness about terrorism in this provocative new book. It questions ...
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Overview


Have human rights as we once understood them become obsolete since 9-11? Aren't new methods needed to combat the apocalyptic violence of al-Qaeda? Shouldn't we sacrifice some rights to make us all safer? And if we can kill a combatant in battle, why shouldn't we torture them if it will save lives? William Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, examines these and other fundamental questions through the prism of our new consciousness about terrorism in this provocative new book. It questions America's own ambivalent record—its tainted legacy—and addresses recent human rights violations: the imprisonment without charge of non-citizens and the violation of the Geneva Convention at Guantanamo Bay. Schulz writes, "One of Osama bin Laden's goals is to destroy the solidarity of the international community and undermine the norms and standards that have sustained that community since the end of World War II. The great irony of the post-9/11 world is that, when it comes to human rights, the United States has been doing his work for him."
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Lifton brings his unique psychiatric and psychohistorical perspective to the heated issues of the war on terror and America in a unipolar world. Lifton defines superpower syndrome as an aberrant "national mind-set... that takes on a sense of omnipotence, of unique standing in the world that grants it the right to hold sway over all other nations." He examines parallels with other instances of apocalyptic nations, which he has explored in groundbreaking works about Hiroshima (Death in Life), the Holocaust (The Nazi Doctors), the Vietnam War (Home from the War) and global terrorism (Destroying the World to Save It). Bush's war on terror can be seen as apocalyptic, Lifton says, because of its call for an amorphous battle unlimited in time or space and encompassing the absolute eradication of evil. The perceived threat of group annihilation leads apocalyptics to "merge with God in the claim to ownership of death," asserting the right to "murderous purification" and to decide who lives and who dies. The U.S. response to Nazi violence was similarly apocalyptic, in Lifton's analysis, a battle "for global salvation through the flames of destruction," such as the bombings of Dresden and Hiroshima. The latter in turn fed into the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult in Japan in the 1990s. Similarly, the Bush response is "part of an ongoing dynamic in which the American apocalyptic interacts, almost to the point of collusion, with the Islamic apocalyptic"-an escalation that, Lifton believes, "has in it the potential seeds of world destruction." Yet escalation isn't inevitable, and with guarded hope, Lifton provides a complex yet clearly articulated roadmap to national self-reflection rather than international destruction. (Nov. 15) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Lifton (The Nazi Doctors), whose works have examined different aspects of "the apocalyptic mind," here applies his principles of social psychology to analyzing America's role as a world superpower. He maintains that the Bush administration is being driven by a "superpower syndrome" consisting of "a national mindset that takes on a sense of omnipotence, of unique standing in the world that grants it the right to hold sway over all other nations." After examining a variety of historical examples (e.g., Timothy McVeigh, the Turner diaries, Islamic suicide bombings, Christian and Jewish martyrdom, Hitler, Hiroshima, and the Japanese Shinrikyo cult), Lifton argues that there is a similarity between Al Queda's "murderous terrorism," which is aimed at cleansing a world made impure by Western ideas, and Bush's vision of America as a superpower bent on unilaterally cleansing the world by fighting preemptive wars. Though Lifton successfully argues that America has sometimes crossed the boundary between legitimate self-defense and military overreaction, he falls short of equating the pathology of Al Queda terror and the "syndrome" of American superpower ambitions. While invoking an exaggerated lexicon to describe America's "sickness"-paranoia, world control, zealotry, and "military fundamentalism"-the author doesn't demonize America or whitewash Islamic terror, as some have done. A clearly and forcefully written manifesto that is not likely to convince nonbelievers; for most academic and larger public libraries.-Jack Forman, San Diego Mesa Coll. Lib. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In a post-9/11 world, "where is the balance . . . between fighting terror and respecting human rights?" asks Amnesty International executive director Schulz, endeavoring to reconcile practical reality with principled ideals. This requires, first, some international consensus on human rights, which the author explains have been chewed over for years through religious, natural-law, and philosophical-pragmatist versions, achieving (marginally) satisfactory contours in documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Then, as per the US, it is important to make sure these rights are protected on the homefront and abroad, tempering "that part of the American disposition inclined to trump liberty with order, to engage in moral preening, to reserve rights for the worthy and Right to the powerful." Schulz would like to see some flexibility injected into the human-rights equation, an avoidance of incompatible ethical absolutes. A renewed commitment for human rights on the part of the American government, he believes, should be matched by a willingness of human-rights workers to rethink some sacred assumptions. A public emergency may require compromise on some right, such as travel, or on the nature of a criminal prosecution. Unsurprisingly, these compromises are not treated lightly by Schulz, who exquisitely analyzes their necessity and proportionality while making a case for their sensible deployment in times of crisis. (For example, the cessation of air travel on the afternoon of 9/11.) Ultimately, he argues, exercising human rights steals the extremists' thunder: if the international community can devise a list of human rights, however flawed, it suggests that in a global sense somerights are held to be self-evident, desirable to the highest degree. Human rights are basic respect for the body and the soul; they may be tempered, in extremis, to protect legions of lives, but never cynically or hypocritically, never through embracing tyrants, never to create more bitterness. Well-mulled, field-tested, freethinking notions on the role of human rights in diminishing the appeal of extremism.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781560254898
  • Publisher: Nation Books
  • Publication date: 9/28/2003
  • Series: Nation Books
  • Pages: 242
  • Product dimensions: 4.95 (w) x 7.64 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction: "I Don't Ever Want to Speak English Again" 1
Pt. I Ruin
Ch. 1 "Terrorists Are the Fish; the People Are the Sea" The Demystification of Terrorism 15
Ch. 2 "Let Them Hate As Long As They Fear" History and Hubris 35
Ch. 3 The Haunting of America (I): How Countenancing Human Rights Violations Overseas Does Us Damage Here at Home 65
Ch. 4 The Haunting of America (II): How Committing Human Rights Violations Here at Home Does Us Damage Overseas 85
Pt. II Groundwork
Ch. 5 What Makes Rights "Right"? The Origin of Human Rights and the Challenge of Universality 109
Ch. 6 When Wickedness Is in Fashion: National Sovereignty and International Justice 131
Ch. 7 The Ticklish Case of a Ticking Bomb: Is Torture Ever Justified? 155
Pt. III Reconstruction
Ch. 8 Striking the Rights Balance: Security, Liberty, and the Challenge of a New World 173
Ch. 9 Sitting on Our Bayonets: The Role of Human Rights in the Struggle Against Terrorism 195
Endnotes 213
Index 235
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