Saturday, January 15, 2005

Shirin Ebadi, Torture, and Bad PR

Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi last week became the attorney for “Ruzbeh Mir-Ebrahimi, the latest target of the Iranian government's high-profile prosecution of webloggers and journalists.” Now, the Revolutionary Court of Iran has summoned her to appear for questioning. But Shirin has challenged the legality of that court order. The State Department did take notice:

Louis Fintor, a State Department spokesman, said the department was monitoring the case, which appeared to be part of a broader campaign by Tehran.

"The continued harassment and arrest of proponents of moderation, pluralism, and political reform -- as evidenced not only by this incident, but also by the recent Iranian decision to close several reform newspapers -- are in violation of international standards of human rights," Fintor said.

Not suprisingly, Iranian President Khatami, siting Abu Ghraib, rejected the United State’s legitimacy in questioning Iranian human rights abuses:

"Now they must respond to the crimes committed in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and their relentless killing of people in all parts of the world in the name of freedom and democracy and the support they provide to the brutalities and atrocities committed against the Palestinian people," he said.

Abu Ghraid and Palestine are not excuses for ongoing abuses in Iran, but unfortunately they provide convenient rhetorical cover for the Mullahs and other like-minded regimes. Even if one could justify the use of torture, the negative PR impact of such practices should be enough to stop its use. The U.S. should, and usually does hold itself to a higher standard, and does have and up hold higher human rights standards than Iran. But Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, and other recent cases of torture hurt those standards and the way the U.S. is perceived in the world. Granted, those who view us as “the Great Satan” don’t need much ammunition to begin with. But why give them, and others, more. You would think that the Bushies who effectively use the media here, could at the very least figure out that torture equals negative, and damning, press coverage that undermines everything we stand for and everything we are trying accomplish in Iraq and elsewhere in the Muslim world.


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