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The Lawless Sheriff

I usually limit myself in my newspaper commentaries to my area of expertise, economics. But as an American, I am so horrified by what has happened in my country - and what my country has done to others over the past two years - that I feel I must speak out.

I believe American abuses of human rights and the canons of civilized peoples that have come to light in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, and the more horrendous abuses that almost surely will come to light later, are not merely the act of aberrant individuals. They are the result of a Bush administration that has trampled on human rights and international law, including the Geneva conventions, and tried to undermine basic democratic protections, ever since it took office.

Sadly, torture and other atrocities do happen in war - and the Iraq war is certainly not the only time torture has been used - but I believe that the Bush administration is responsible for creating a climate in which international law and democratic processes have been disregarded. When Vice President Dick Cheney spoke at the last World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, he was asked how the administration could justify what was taking place in Guatanamo Bay, where prisoners are being kept without being charged and without counsel. Cheney's answer was jarring: he said that because the detainees were captured in Afghanistan where they had been trying to kill US troops, the rules regarding prisoners of war did not apply.

Many in the audience were shocked by his remarks, but Cheney seemingly failed to grasp how appalled his audience was. They were not concerned with legalisms, about whether, technically, the Geneva conventions did or did not apply. They were concerned about basic canons of human rights. Among the most appalled were those who had recently struggled to achieve democracy, and were continuing to fight for human rights.