Human Rights & Hypocrisy

Posted: April 06, 2004

CONDOLEEZZA Rice will be on the hot seat this week, fielding questions from the 9/11 commission.

Unlike Richard Clarke, former anti-terrorism czar under the Clinton and Bush administrations, she doesn't have a book to peddle, so I don't anticipate any juicy soundbites, maudlin apologies to families who lost loved one on the day of terror or self-serving flip-flops.

Say what you will, Condi is genuine, a woman of intelligence whose loyalty and competence are undisputed. Disagree with her positions, perhaps, but mistrust her motives? Never.

I'm all but certain that the national security adviser will be asked leading questions about the Bush administration's focus on Iraq. Translation? Did the president ignore the threat of al Qaeda while seeking to settle an old family score with the Butcher of Baghdad?

I hope commission members will avoid muddying the waters by attacking the president's decision to go to war in Iraq, a legitimate issue, but one better saved for another day.

But if Condi is sandbagged into justifying the invasion of Iraq, I hope that she is also given an opportunity to discuss some of its more positive aspects.

Like, for example, the significant drop in random institutionalized torture perpetrated by a master in that dark art. Or, perhaps, the deliverance of the Kurds, targets in a Hitler-like campaign of genocide. The improved lot of women and religious minorities might also receive a nod.

Several years ago, I walked into an immigration court in Philadelphia, hoping to convince a judge that my client deserved asylum. He was a physician from the Sudan, one who had refused to fight on behalf of a government that sought out and murdered Coptic Christians.

For his defiant and courageous stand, he was imprisoned for months, beaten with electrical cords and left to die in one of the notorious "safe houses" in the outskirts of Khartoum.

By some miracle, he was able to escape to the U.S. and, thanks to the Solomonic judge, granted refugee status. That was my first experience with torture.

Since that time, I have represented women from Central Africa who were threatened with female genital mutilation, political dissidents from Albania whose teeth were removed, one by one, during government detention, gypsies from Romania who were stripped of their citizenship, livelihood and basic human rights, doctors from Algeria whose homes were firebombed by Islamic terrorists, women from Guatemala who were raped by their military spouses and Maronite Christians from Lebanon whose brothers were murdered by the Syrians.

While not all of these people have been granted asylum, at the very least their cries for help have been given a fair hearing.

The U.S., and all civilized nations, recognize that persecution must be faced head-on, and that victims of abuse must be granted solace and sanctuary. We are indeed our brothers' keepers.

SO, EVEN though we may disagree about the means employed, and whether this was a "just" and justified war, we must in good faith praise the welcome results:

Saddam Hussein's reign of terror is over, and the mass graves and killing grounds have become, like the camps of Dachau and Buchenwald, monuments to the bitter history of man's inhumanity to man.

True, the network of terror survives, and the cowardly architect of its evil, bin Laden, is probably still spinning his noxious web among hate-filled acolytes.

But if Condoleezza Rice is forced to answer for this, she should also be allowed to raise her voice in defense of those who strangled yet another tyrant and delivered his victims from an earthly hell. *

Christine M. Flowers is an immigration lawyer. E-mail

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