BOOK REVIEW: After Abu Ghraib

Reviewed: After Abu Ghraib: Exploring Human Rights in America and the Middle East, By Shadi Mokhati, (Cambridge University Press, 2011).

In the book Abu Ghraib: Exploring Human Rights in America and the Middle East, author Shadi Mokhtari describes how the human rights violations at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and other secret prisons have created a new level of consciousness regarding rights and justice, while simultaneously providing the United States with a justification for military intervention in Middle Eastern countries. With human rights described as “a site of struggle,” Mokhtari portrays the opposing paradigms of power impersonated by West and East.

Under a banner of freedom and justice, Washington defended its recent interventions in the Middle East by citing human rights violations committed by rulers in the region. Through a call toward establishing western democracy in the Middle East, the US has consolidated its position as an international guardian of human rights. In assessing human rights through the dynamics of national law, the US imposed its hierarchy over international law.

Reminiscent of Edward Said’s Orientalism, Mokhtari argues that post September 11th human rights discourse is rooted in an imaginary consciousness in which the US is never a perpetrator. Meanwhile, the Middle East is portrayed as evil and unable to comprehend the importance of human rights. The US has enhanced its own image through the dehumanization of the Middle East, thus rendering negligible any violations of human rights in the region committed by the US.

Human rights violations committed by the US in recent conflicts were classified as necessary measures against terrorists; torture was described as a counter resistance interrogation technique and extraordinary rendition of suspects. Dick Cheney’s justification of torture was “a new conflict” which necessitated new methods of interrogation. These torture techniques, which cast the US into the role of a superior mediator in human rights conflicts, aided the US in framing conflicts in the Middle East within its own warped human rights discourse. By eliminating the concept of human rights for detainees in cases of torture claims, the US has determined pre-emptive measures as both legal and morally acceptable. Read more

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