While speaking at the University of Wisconsin campus Tuesday night, the executive director of Amnesty International USA said the United States has been one of the most obvious and alarming violators of human rights since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
In his speech, Larry Cox, who leads Amnesty International USA — a nongovernmental organization aiming to impartially protect global human rights by organizing public concern — discussed the dire state of human rights throughout the world, as well as what he called the United States' "attack" on human rights.
"What makes the current attacks on the idea of human rights so serious is that it is also coming from the most unexpected of places, from a nation that has long seen itself, and has been seen by people around the world, as a champion of human rights," Cox said. "And in 2007, human rights have come under the most serious attacks by the United States."
Cox said that the United States has put innocent people in prison without a trial, tortured and killed many of them, and justified its acts by labeling groups of people as dangerous.
"Even in my most pessimistic and discouraging moments, I never expected to live to see precisely the gross violation of human rights, usually associated with dictatorship," Cox said. "[It was] not just carried out, but openly and publicly defended by the highest elected officials in the land."
Cox added that actions were passed through the control of the president and vice president, and eventually were ratified by Congress.
Citing a testimony from an FBI agent who witnessed the inhumane treatment of prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay prison, Cox portrayed the terrible conditions at the prison.
"On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand-and-foot in the fetal position on the floor with no chair, food, or water," Cox said. "Most of the time they had urinated or defecated on themselves and had been left there for 18 to 24 hours or more. … The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor."
Cox said he offered this particular testimony not because it was the worst case of abuse by the United States, but because of its source — when other nations use these same techniques, it's referred to as torture.
Cox then explained how the United States outsources torture and referenced a Canadian who was flown to Syria and tortured until he falsely admitted to being a terrorist.
Cox criticized the U.S. response to September 11th, saying the "president has given to Osama bin Laden, and his allies, the status that I'm sure, once upon a time, they could only have dreamed of, by comparing the fight against them to the war against fascism."
As a result, Cox noted that U.S. disregard for human rights has led to poor relationships with allies such as Canada, Italy and Germany.
UW junior Chuck Giesen said he agreed with Cox's presentation.
"International cooperation is needed to fix the problem, and the emphasis needs to be put on winning a PR war against terrorism."
UW law student Andy Gehl said he was surprised by the severity of the information conveyed at the lecture.
"It was a little bit shocking that he focused on the abuses that our government has committed," Gehl said. "Our government has accepted human rights violations as a cost of doing business."