I’d like to think that in the old days of responsible journalism, more of a point would have been made of the hypocrisy of Barack Obama lecturing Raul Castro of Cuba about human rights.
Even as the American president blathered his false pieties in Havana, just 500 miles away, at the other end of the same island, an abject community of United States political prisoners was enduring torture and incarceration without trial at the Guantanamo military base prison Obama had promised eight years ago he would close.
Castro’s protestation that his government has no political prisoners may ring hollow in our ears, but however unjustly Cuba may treat its dissidents, the magnitude of its human rights violations is minuscule compared to the United States. America’s human rights record is among the poorest in the civilized world.
Consider China, another country our government has criticized for alleged human rights violations. China’s population is almost five times greater than that of the U.S. Yet the number of prisoners in U.S. jails is far greater than the number incarcerated in all of China.
Our prison population of 2.2 million is by far the world’s largest, nearly equaling the number in Soviet prisons at the height of the Gulag terror. An enormously disproportionate percentage of the U.S. prison population is African-American or Hispanic — a clear reflection of American racism.
Rape, torture, hunger and endless years of solitary confinement are commonplace in United States prisons.
It is also commonplace to jail Americans for telling the truth to their fellow citizens. Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning is but one case in point. People of color have almost no chance of overturning unjust convictions in the United States. Seven presidents have refused to pardon Leonard Peltier, a native American whose supporters have produced reams of evidence that he is not guilty of the murders for which he was sent to prison in 1974.
Most Americans are unfamiliar with the names and case histories of the dozens of political prisoners unjustly imprisoned in their country — some for 40 or more years.
Mumia Abu Jamal, Gerardo Hernandez, Rene Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero, Ramon Labanino, Fernando Gonzalez), Ricardo Palmera, Russell Maroon Shoats,Veronza Bowers, Ed Poindexter , Mondo we Langa, Mekou Kambul, Robert King, Albert Woodfox, Herman Wallace, Mohammad El-Mezain, Abdulrahman Odeh, Mufid Abdulqade, Jeremy Hammond, Brent Betterly, Jared Chase, Brian Church, Eric McDavid, Marie Mason, Herman Bell, Romaine (Chip) Fitzgerald, Ed Poindexter — these are not names you often see in your newspapers and magazines, or hear broadcast on what passes for “news” on TV.
But they have been jailed for being active in radical social movements, for exercising what courts have deemed to be “free speech.” They are victims of corrupt evidence, coerced testimony, incompetent defense lawyers, prosecutorial misconduct. Their appeals go unheard, their human stories obscured. Their human rights have been trampled and probably never will be restored.
And yet our president dares to question the record of another country’s head of state on human rights. Have we no shame at all?