Torture By Mexican Government In Drug War Highlights U.S. Loss of Credibility On Human Rights

The Washington Post reports today that the Mexican government has employed numerous torture techniques to extract confessions from suspected drug traffickers. The techniques included beatings, suffocation with plastic bags, electric shocks, the insertion of needles under suspects’ finger nails, water torture, and other abuses.

Under what’s known as the Mérida Initiative, the U.S. government agreed in 2007 to provide Mexico with $1.4 billion in funding to fight the war on drugs, but 15 percent (or $90.7 million) of the original funding and $24 million authorized under the Obama administration will be released only after the “secretary of state reports that Mexico has made progress on human rights.”

The reports of torture put that money’s release in jeopardy. As a result, Mexican human rights workers are accusing the U.S. of hypocrisy when it comes to human rights abuses, citing the mistreatment of suspected terrorists under President Bush. The Post explains:

Many Mexican human rights activists do not support the [human rights] conditions, noting that they were imposed by a U.S government widely accused of torturing prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

It really takes a lot of cynicism, a lot of hypocrisy, for the United States to say, ‘We will give you money to fight drug trafficking as long as you respect human rights,'” said José Raymundo Díaz Taboada, director of the Acapulco office of the Collective Against Torture and Impunity, which documents abuses in Guerrero.

The accusations of hypocrisy highlight one of the hard-to-quantify costs of the Bush administration’s use of torture against suspected terrorists to extract unreliable intelligence: the loss of credibility as a champion of human rights. In recent months and years, in fact, a growing number of nations have rejected calls from the U.S. to end human rights abuses, citing the Bush administration’s actions:

China: In response to the State Department’s annual human rights report critical of the Chinese government, a government spokesman said the report “exposed the double standards and downright hypocrisy of the United States on the human rights issue, and inevitably impaired its international image.” [3/12/2008]

Iran: The L.A. Times reported on Iran’s latest response to the State Department’s latest human rights report, writing, “Iranian officials regularly accuse the West of hypocrisy in zeroing in on Iran’s human rights record, citing prisoner abuse allegations in the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay. [3/11/09]

Russia: In response to criticism from former Vice President Dick Cheney regarding Russia’s human rights abuses, then-Russian President Vladimir Putin asked, “Where is all this pathos about protecting human rights and democracy when it comes to the need to pursue their own interests?” [5/11/06. Similar remarks: 3/27/08]

Venezuela: The Venezuelan government responded to a recent State Department report on Human Trafficking, saying, “It is scandalous that a country…where torture has been practiced and terrorists are protected, pretends to prop itself up as a judge of human rights in the world.” [6/19/09]

As Matt Yglesias recently explained, the abuses that go on in Iran, China, North Korea, and other nations are perpetrated on a much wider scale and have gone on far longer than those that occurred in U.S. detention centers in Iraq, Afghanistan and Cuba. But the fact remains that “whenever you read about these kind of techniques being applied in Iran or North Korea, it’s immediately apparent to everyone that it’s torture, it’s cruel, it’s inhumane, and it’s wrong.” Indeed, it was immediately apparent to the world that the U.S. abuses were torture as well. Now, Obama must work to rebuild the credibility that his predecessor squandered.