Reports that have lost their meaning

January 7, 2009

As we enter the new year the U.S. State Department is finishing the touches on its annual human rights report. When I took over as Egypt country specialist for Amnesty back in the 1990s, Egyptian activists used to look forward to the report’s publication.  It was a rare occasion that any official body of influence called the Egyptian government on its human rights abuses.  It gave their work particularly against torture, legitimacy and moral support.

But this year, as in the past few years, the report will be ignored by my activist colleagues in Egypt.  Today’s New York Times has a story that explains why.

The story is about ex-Guantanamo detainee Muhammad Saad Iqbal.  After more than six years in American custody, Iqbal is now free, never having been charged with any crime, but he suffers from years of abuse.  Some of the worse came when the Americans rendered him to Egyptian authorities, whom, Iqbal says, tortured him.  You can read his story here.

This year’s State Department report will criticize the Egyptians for torture.  It will echo Amnesty’s own language accusing the Egyptians of systemmatic torture and impunity for the torturers.  But as the evidence mounts that American officials are complicit in the same abuses that they criticize, this year those words just don’t mean as much.