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Brandishing the human rights card: the most overused trick in America’s book

Suleiman Judeh

Published: Updated:

As expected, the human rights issue has resurfaced with the Democrats taking over the White House on the twentieth of January.

This approach was expected because the issue of human rights is a known card that the democrats have been playing for a long time. During Obama’s eight years in office, from 2008 to 2016, this card was constantly used whenever the Obama administration had to address an important capital in our region.

Unlike what many of those who still have goodwill might imagine, this issue was being repeatedly stirred up with the aim of exerting all kinds of pressure on certain governments in the Middle East.

There are two incidents signaling the US’s return to relying on this tactic, the first being the phone call that took place between Anthony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, and Sameh Shoukry, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, and the second is the US intelligence report that was recently released about the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

In both cases, the human rights card was being brandished as a pretext to send a specific message, whether it was the phone call between the two ministers, or the extensively debated intelligence report. In truth, this message was carefully constructed to paint the US as a human rights champion. Whoever wrote this report intended to convince the world that the issue of human rights in this region is a major concern that they plan on addressing.

It was fortunate that the Saudi judiciary in Riyadh took over the case from the start, and that the family of the deceased journalist had interfered, which stood in the way of all those who thought they could use this case to their advantage by constantly holding the Khashoggi file over Saudi’s head from time to time as a means of political extortion.

Fortunately, the reopening of the Khashoggi case has been met with the necessary response. The Saudi Foreign Ministry issued a statement on February 26, which outlined in clear terms that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia completely rejects the false and unacceptable assessment reached in the report and notes that the report contained inaccurate information and conclusions. The findings of the report were not built on conclusive evidence, and instead, the report immediately jumped to unfounded conclusions.

This brings us back to what I mentioned at the beginning, the issue of human rights is constantly being used by several US administrations especially when dealing with a number of key influential countries. It is clear to see that playing the human rights card has become an effective move that the US constantly resorts to as a means of exerting political pressure to safeguard their self-interests. This tactic has become one of the most overused tricks in the book and the real motives are often clear to everyone.

Despite the fact that these tricks have been exposed every time, the administration seems unaware that its true intentions have become transparent especially to the people of the region even before their governments. Evidently, the Saudi government was not fooled by the sudden revival of this closed case. In fact, this has been highlighted in the aforementioned Saudi Foreign Ministry statement, which placed this attempt in its right context and recognized it for what it was, then proceeded quickly to emphasize the nature of the relationship between Washington and Riyadh and that these false conclusions mentioned in the report are not aligned with the strong ties between the two countries. It would be conducive for those who prepared the intelligence report to carefully read the Saudi Foreign Ministry statement, or in other words to read between the lines, perhaps they would realize that any talk about human rights in our region cannot be objectively discussed without making sure that no ulterior motives are at play.

Talks about human rights hold no real value if they are not stripped of the political agendas behind them. It would be difficult to believe that the US’s sentiments are sincere in this regard since we are well-aware of its vested interests.

I can safely say that I am fully willing to believe any human rights issue raised, if it proves that the intention behind it is to genuinely raise a flag about a certain human rights violation, and not a mere excuse to serve certain interests and it needs to be comprehensive, raising an issue about other human rights as well and not just a single right.

I am willing to support such claims if they appear to care about other important human rights like people’s right to education, good healthcare, decent housing, as well as all other human rights that are basic for a decent life.

Never before has any American party been known to take a real interest in human rights in their comprehensive sense. The human rights issues raised by all successive administrations have always been centered around freedom of speech and nothing else. Freedom of speech is, of course, an essential human right that cannot be neglected, but giving it the sole focus when discussing human rights leads one to question whether there is a hidden agenda behind this interest.

Human rights issues are a package deal, and they must be discussed comprehensively. There is no room for cherry-picking the issues according to what one finds relevant. When one human right is discussed in isolation, as is the case in this report, then it is certainly not a matter of human rights, but a cover for an obvious agenda that any reader can effortlessly deduce and understand.

If an objective reader tried to strip the CIA’s report down to its core, the remaining content would have no relation to human rights whatsoever and will not stand a chance during any assessment that attempts to separate what is intended to serve political interests from what is actually related to human rights issues. There is no doubt at this point that this report will have no place among objective and scientifically sound reports.

Human rights have always been a major topic of research and discussion, but political agendas have damaged and distorted them in many ways, such as the case in this report in particular.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

Read more:

The Eighth Pillar: Why the sudden emphasis on the Khashoggi file?

The Khashoggi Report: Baseless allegations and worthless information

Khashoggi report

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.