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Human Rights Quarterly 26.2 (2004) 539-542
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The innocents slain on 9/11 left a noble legacy that inspired us to be "the best that we can be." William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, finds that legacy tainted by the US government's counter-terrorism excesses as well as by human rights aesthetes who ignore crimes against humanity by non-state actors.
Schulz, an ordained minister and former President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, draws on theology, law, and the social sciences to frame and address the most significant moral, political, and legal questions posed by the war on terror. His very readable call to action is relevant and accessible to a broad audience—students, academics, activists, public officials, and the general public, both liberal and conservative. Personal anecdotes enrich scholarly perspectives. As a participant observer, Schulz combines extensive research with practitioner experience, integrating tales of individual suffering to illustrate well-reasoned conclusions supported by solid evidence and authority. He draws on classical and modern philosophers and theorists for relevant aphorisms and epigrams, turning more than a few pithy phrases of his own. He faults U.S. Presidents for using human rights like a bad cook uses a spice--to cover up the taste of otherwise unpalatable policies.1 During the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the UN slept, the US having supplied the Sominex."2 In a mea culpa, Schulz shares the blame for failing to push officials hard enough to intervene.3
Schulz acknowledges that respected human rights allies may consider his critique of their absolutism heretical. He challenges purists who ignore international human rights principles that expressly allow derogation of some rights in times of emergency threatening the life of the nation. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms the right to life and public order as well as to individual liberties and due process. Conflicting rights guarantees must be reconciled. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the US confronted a genuine emergency. Schulz envisions an organic human rights declaration, and he rejects originalist interpretation that precludes adaptation in a changing world. New weapons of mass destruction do pose a real threat.
Schulz urges human rights organizations to collaborate with law enforcement and public officials in developing effective strategies against terrorist groups that violate basic rights. "Our job is to help stop things like the attacks of 9/11 from happening and, inasmuch as we did not, we were among the many who failed . . . We who care about human rights are among the terrorists' most passionate adversaries."4
Challenging his own organization, Schulz faults Amnesty International for its failure to conceptualize terrorism as a human rights issue. Despots who misrepresent non-violent political dissidents [End Page 539] as "terrorists," and activists who charge governments with terrorism have misused the term in ways that must be corrected. With a narrow exception for "state-sponsored" terrorism, Schulz limits the meaning of terrorism to crimes committed by non-state actors. He offers a workable definition to differentiate Freedom Fighters from Terrorists based on their selection of military or civilian targets. Government crimes against civilians are not terrorism but different offenses clearly proscribed by law—genocide, torture, summary execution, disappearances, war crimes, etc.
Although the Bush administration exploited 9/11 to eviscerate basic rights, Schulz does not categorically reject all US counter-terrorism initiatives. He recommends and endorses what he considers reasonable measures to promote safety—surveillance cameras in subways and malls, a limited use national ID card for airports and government buildings.5 He calls for serious debate on using multivariate terrorist profiles that combine race, age, gender and religion, a ban on manuals for developing WMD, and he questions support for majority rule in democracies that threaten minority rights.6
At least one other human rights executive has publicly agreed with Schulz on the need to approve extraordinary state action in the interests of safety...