How has September 11th changed America’s approach to human rights?

America’s anti-terrorist activities have given cover to many foreign governments who want to use “anti-terrorism” to justify their own crackdowns on human rights. Examples abound. In Indonesia, the army has cited America’s use of Guantánamo to propose building an offshore prison camp on Nasi Island to hold suspected terrorists from Aceh. In Australia, Parliament passed laws mandating the forcible transfer of refugees seeking entry to detention facilities in Nauru, where children as young as three years old are being held, so that Australia does not (in the words of its defence minister) become a “pipeline for terrorists”.

In 1759, Benjamin Franklin wrote: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither.” In the months ahead, I believe, we can both obtain our security and preserve our essential liberty, but only so long as we have courage from our courts, commitment from our citizens, and pressure from our foreign allies. Even after September 11th, America can still stand for human rights, but we can get there only with a little help from our friends.

–Harold Hongju Koh, professor of international law at Yale Law School

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