We are the "Thought Police"
"Every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defense against a homicidal maniac."
"you simply cannot allow foreign troops to go anywhere they want, break into any houses at any time of the day, arrest anybody, take them to any prison detention facilities without going through any legal process and without being accountable."
AMY GOODMAN: Cherif Bassiouni joins us on the phone right now from his home in Chicago. He's a professor of law at DePaul University, author of 27 books on a wide range of legal issues, and he’s President of the International Human Rights Law Institute. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Professor Bassiouni.
CHERIF BASSIOUNI: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Well, why don't you first tell us what you found in Afghanistan?
CHERIF BASSIOUNI: Well, Afghanistan, we have to distinguish between the general human rights situation in that country and the problem connected with the coalition forces. First, Afghanistan is a very poor country that has gone through almost a quarter of a century of wars, and is very ethnically and tribally and regionally divided. It has had warlords who have controlled the fate of the country for years. During the last 25 years, many of these warlords have emerged as having committed major atrocities, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and because they have been useful to U.S. forces when they invaded Afghanistan in 2003, they – many of the leaders were basically rewarded with plum positions, and above all, they were rewarded with impunity for their past crimes. In time, their help may not have proven to be that useful to the U.S. In fact, the elusive Bin Laden has still not been captured, and his al Qaeda leadership, presumably still in Afghanistan, has not been captured.
But in the meantime, these warlords have converted into drug lords. They control the drug economy or give it protection. It brings them over $2 billion a year in income. They have $80,000 men under arms. And they're literally a power within the country. For the U.S. to have allied itself to these people for political military strategic purposes was a judgment that many in time will certainly dispute, particularly because of the dangers of this alliance, and the fact that it's not likely to produce much of the desired benefits that the U.S. wants.
The result of that is a terrible human rights situation in Afghanistan, particularly for weaker elements of society: women, children, the handicapped. The justice system is totally inefficient, corrupt. The prison conditions there are medieval. I have seen not hundreds, but thousands of prisoners live in incredibly inhuman conditions. Prisons are sometimes made of a metal container, a small metal container in which 12 people are put in there. No toilets, no running water, no heat in the cold when it gets down to 10 or 0 degrees. People in medieval shackles, hand and feet with a metal bar between them. All of these situations and instances are matters that I brought up to the government, and I must say that the government of President Karzai has always been very responsive and desirous of making changes, but they don't have the resources, and that's not really one of their top priorities. So, that's one aspect, and that's why a human rights monitor representing the United Nations, with experience and with a certain personal prestige and the prestige of the United Nations, is important to be there. Whether it's me or somebody else is immaterial.
Now, the next issue is the fact that the United States and the coalition forces consider themselves above and beyond the reach of the law. They feel they -- that human rights don't apply to them, the international conventions don't apply to them, nobody can ask them what they're doing, and nobody can hold them accountable. And that type of position is simply untenable. And then as one goes further into it, these forces have acted in a manner which maybe in their mind is justified, but in a country where now you have a constitution and presumably a rule of law, you simply cannot allow foreign troops to go anywhere they want, break into any houses at any time of the day, arrest anybody, take them to any prison detention facilities without going through any legal process and without being accountable. So, that's the essential problem.
Now, the Defense Department and the U.S. government take the position that nobody can ask the U.S. government what it's doing in Afghanistan. And I take the very simple position, which I think is principle and principled and valid, that that's not really true. If the United States are there, and we're not questioning why they're there, and we're not questioning what they're doing, that's a political judgment. But how you behave with ordinary citizens, that's something that is questionable.
AMY GOODMAN: Cherif Bassiouni, we have to break, but when we come back, I want to ask about what happened to you, about the U.S. saying that the human rights situation has improved in Afghanistan, so the U.N. doesn't need an independent and human rights investigator. We're speaking to Professor Cherif Bassiouni, who teaches law at DePaul University, President of the International Human Rights Law Institute, just let go by the United Nations after he came up with a report on the human rights situation in Afghanistan.
AMY GOODMAN: As we continue with Professor Cherif Bassiouni. He teaches law at DePaul University, President of the International Human Rights Law Institute. Then, we're joined in our studio for the first time by Dahr Jamail, who we are used to speaking to on the telephone from Iraq, from Baghdad, an unembedded reporter.
But Professor Bassiouni, can you talk about what happened to you at the United Nations? First, specifically what your title was, what your mandate was, and why you don't have that title anymore.