The Shadow Report

Thursday, July 20th, 2006

“Torture is wrong no matter where it occurs, and the United States will continue to lead the fight to eliminate it everywhere.”

OK, calm down, take a couple deep breaths. Lies this shameless always come back to haunt the teller. Indeed, the government report from which this quote is excerpted — the “Second Periodic Report of the United States of America to the Committee Against Torture,” delivered a year ago to the United Nations — proved, in its bald-faced audacity, to be the catalyst for an unprecedented coalition of human rights organizations to call the Bush administration, and many other aspects of American life, into international accountability.

“Despite playing the role of watchdog for the implementation of human rights around the world, the U.S. has faltered in meeting its own international human rights obligations,” reads an extraordinary and aptly named “shadow report” that has been submitted to the U.N. committee now reviewing U.S. compliance with the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, a treaty we ratified in 1992, which is considered one of the key international documents affirming universal human rights. “. . . . The result is that U.S. citizens and others in the United States have no effective remedy; in other words, they have no way to ensure that all of their human rights are protected.”

There are implications to this 465-page report, drawing on the expertise of 142 U.S. non-profit organizations, that, it seems to me, go beyond politics and are downright Jungian.

“Unfortunately,” wrote Carl Jung in Psychology and Religion, “there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If . . . it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.”

According to the trillion-watt arrogance the Bush Administration projects to the world, America can do no evil. Thank God, I say, that there is a way around the false rectitude with which we are pursuing our so-called war on terror, oozing war crimes along with good intentions, generating a worldwide animosity we can’t even, in an official sense, see, let alone acknowledge.

The point of this report is not, as a story about it on Cybercast (formerly Conservative) News Service lamented, to “blame America,” but rather to restore a sense of realism and balance — the very thing the true believers can’t stand — to our self-perception as a nation. We need to get back in touch with a sense of our own limitations. We need our comeuppance.

Thus the shadow report cites over 100 U.S. violations of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, which the U.N. committee monitoring treaty compliance, which is deliberating now in Geneva (and will issue a finding on July 28), is weighing along with the official smiley-face report the Bush government submitted — seven years late — last October.

Our international treaty violations fall into a number of categories, one of the largest of which is our treatment of prisoners — not enemy combatants held outside U.S. borders, but our own domestic prison population, which is now at 7 million.

“The report recounts cases of rape of prisoners by prison guards, abusing female prisoners who are pregnant and minority prisoners specifically, and cites examples of horrific cases that have gone unaddressed,” writes Larisa Alexandrovna of Raw Story, one of the few news organizations that has given extensive coverage to the report.

Singled out was the infamous Chicago Police Department torture scandal, in which nearly 200 African-American men, over a 20-year period (1972-1991), were subjected to such procedures as electric shock, suffocation, mock executions and beatings with a rubber hose. There have been 10 years of litigation since the scandal was finally outed, but no convictions and only one firing (with full pension benefits).

Part of the shadow report is devoted to the horrendous failures of government concerning Hurricane Katrina: New Orleans’ inadequate levee system; an every-man-for-himself evacuation plan; inadequate relocation assistance; and, this past April, the government’s shameless refusal to allow displaced residents a chance to vote in the Orleans Parish elections, in effect denying them the right to vote.

There’s plenty more, of course. If you’re interested, the report is available here.

So what’s at stake if the U.N. committee finds the U.S. out of compliance with the 1992 treaty?

“It is true that the committee is only an advisory one and does not have enforcement power,” wrote Beth George, a spokesperson for the U.S. Human Rights Network, in an e-mail to me from Geneva. “However . . . during the proceedings, the US officials stated many times that the treaty was binding and that judges could cite the treaty . . . in court.” In other words, American citizens can look to international law for protections they can’t find in U.S. law.

The shadow report amounts to a national sobriety test. We’re imperfect, just as every nation is; we need to own up to these imperfections. According to Jungian psychology, those who don’t acknowledge their shadows project them onto others.