Watergate to Waterboarding: Civil Liberties to Human Rights


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“When Richard Nixon decided to torture the American Constitution and international law, those actions led to opposition from millions of us back in the 1960s and 1970s. His Grand Inquisitor hubris eventually precipitated his near-impeachment, his resignation and a short shift in American policy via repercussions from the Watergate incident.
Nixon’s Watergate changed America. We decided to oppose unilateral presidential war power, Congress actually grew a backbone and cut off funding for the dirty war in Vietnam (thus ending it, something they have forgotten how to do now). We all dropped to our knees and prayed we would not get fooled again….”

Author: Tom H Hastings, with the Conflict Resolution Department at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon
Published in: Truthout.org at click here
Date: December 21, 2007

For the full article:
Watergate to Waterboarding: Civil Liberties to Human Rights
(577 words)
by Tom H Hastings

When Richard Nixon decided to torture the American Constitution and international law, those actions led to opposition from millions of us back in the 1960s and 1970s. His Grand Inquisitor hubris eventually precipitated his near-impeachment, his resignation and a short shift in American policy via repercussions from the Watergate incident.

Nixon’s Watergate changed America. We decided to oppose unilateral presidential war power, Congress actually grew a backbone and cut off funding for the dirty war in Vietnam (thus ending it, something they have forgotten how to do now). We all dropped to our knees and prayed we would not get fooled again.

It’s all happened again. From torture in tiger cages to torture by filling lungs with water, our people or our proxies are using methods that are illegal, immoral, ineffective and iniquitous. As in Vietnam, these methods are a big reason we lost hearts and minds.

The parallels are not perfect, but they are eerie. As we violate human rights abroad – which are inviolable – we also erode civil rights at home. As we act in the name of the ends (preventing communist takeover, preventing terrorist takeover, bringing democracy, showing how much we love civil and human rights compared to those others), we see the ends recede and fade into irrelevancy and ironic vapor. As we waterboard human rights, we Watergate our civil rights.

Human rights are universal, granted intrinsically, guaranteed by our Universal Declaration and we are seeking to expand those rights to more perfectly guarantee them.

Civil rights are the province of each sovereign state, not the province of one state inside another.

Mostly, in a war system – which, by definition, we are in – the prime directive is that the ends justify the means, which translates into violations of both bodies of rights in all affected lands.

The key is not to win wars; the trick is to stay out of them. Except for attack by other species – either microscopic viruses or monsters from Mars, this is always possible. I teach in a field – Peace and Conflict Studies – that shows this in our theories, our case studies, our research and our ongoing field work. All war is avoidable. There is an answer to every eventuality imaginable that does not involve the use of physical violence. This is not to say we cannot fight each other – we always will. As peace researchers Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall note in their excellent primer, “A Force More Powerful,” “The people in our stories did not come to make peace. They came to fight.”

Conflict is inevitable and eternal for our complex and ambitious and clever species. Group-to-group violence is not. This realization, to me, is what can spur a lifetime of work and commitment to waging battle against war by any nonviolent means at our command, in the name of human rights and civil liberties.

No more Watergates. No more waterboarding. No more lies and no more violence. This is the season for pledges of peace and unilateral commitment to a better way. This is when the vulnerable need real allies rather than the gun-toting, torturing militaries of the world, along with their corrupt and craven secret agents. Until we commit to a peace system, we will continue to suffer a war system that brings us all the bads in the name of bringing the goods. We are morally, emotionally and intellectually smarter than that if we but apply ourselves.

Tom H Hastings is professor of conflict resolution at Portland State University in Oregon