Marc Lynch reviews the 2009 UN Arab Human Development Report, writing that “What emerges is a coherent narrative that links the authoritarianism of Arab states -– and the chaos produced by international military interventions -– to the failure to achieve acceptable levels of human development”:
Rather than an abstract discussion of democracy, the report opts for a detailed analysis of the many ways in which security-oriented states violate the security of their citizens. It criticises the abuse of states of emergency and martial law, the violation of the right to life by torture and mistreatment, and the practice of illegal detentions. The report gives particular attention to the problem of executive-branch infringement on judicial independence, and to the threat posed by “security and armed forces that are not subject to public oversight”.
The report is scathing about the corrosive effects of the “war on terror” -– showing clearly how Arab authoritarian regimes reconfigured and expanded their repressive power at precisely the time when the Bush administration spoke the loudest about its “Freedom Agenda”. The authors do not need to resort to discussing Guantanamo to make this point brutally clear. They describe the anti-terror laws passed in many Arab countries, in which “imprecision and ambiguity form a threat to basic freedoms”, and note that states have clearly “failed to find the required balance between the security of society and the preservation of individual rights and freedoms”. It is this legacy that Arab reformists -– and those in the West who wish to help them -– now must confront. The “global war on terror” will not fade so easily away.
One of the tragedies of the Bush administration was that, while it may have correctly identified some of the factors inhibiting reform in the Middle East — authoritarianism, corruption, religious and political extremism — many of the policies adopted and framed within the war on terror aggravated and even strengthened those factors.
It’s important to note that not all of these policies began with George W. Bush — and not all of them ended with him. I recently interviewed Issander El-Amrani, a Cairo-based writer and analyst, who spoke about some of the effects of U.S. policy on his own country of Morocco. Recognizing that the Obama Administration has ended the practice of extraordinary rendition, Amrani notes that “the practice of ordinary rendition, which dates from the Clinton Administration, continues”:
[I]t’s not only a question that torture is being practiced and the moral questions that raises about what America’s values are, it’s also a question of how it affects the development of the societies that are partners in this rendition program.
If you take the example of Morocco… a country with a pretty terrible human rights record under the previous king, under Hassan II…[S]ince 1999 when the new king, Mohammed VI, came in on the promise of carrying out political and human rights reform, there was a tremendous hope for progress on these issues. What we saw in the earlier part of the decade is the beginning of the Arab world’s first truth and reconciliation movement that looked into past abuses, that looked into allegations of torture, that allowed victims of torture and their family to testify — and this was televised. And this was really a watershed moment, I think, for the Middle East and it’s the first case of any such truth and reconciliation commission.
And because of the war on terror what we have seen since then, since this commission ended in 2003, is a regression. And you have to ask yourself: does Morocco’s prominent role in the rendition program, the fact that many people were sent to the Temara detention center just outside of Ranat, the capital, and detained there, interrogated — and we should have no illusions, its not a question of just the US sent them there and “oh no, the Moroccans used torture on them.” Americans, federal officials, were willing participants in some of these interrogation sessions — what impact does this have on Morocco’s own efforts to end the practice of torture, to have a reform of its security establishment when its main ally that at the same time is praising reform is also encouraging these practices?
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