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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: September 2009

TWO - The Human Rights Challenge from Within


Much has been written about the American “road to Abu Ghraib.” This chapter focuses on the road after Abu Ghraib. It sketches a composite of an unprecedented American human rights campaign that slowly took shape after the gripping images of torture and abuse at the notorious Iraqi prison first came to light. It begins by focusing on two early manifestations of the campaign, the first being an impressive effort to challenge the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General of the United States and the second a mobilization around the passage of the so-called McCain Anti-Torture Amendment to the 2006 Department of Defense Appropriation Act.

Ultimately, Alberto Gonzales won confirmation and the human rights achievements of the McCain amendment were stripped almost immediately following its passage – first by a tentative U.S. Congress through its coupling of the amendment with a provision that limited habeas corpus appeals for Guantanamo detainees, then by a president intent on preserving the torture option through a signing statement, and later by the two branches in concert through provisions of the Military Commissions Act (MCA). Despite the seemingly bleak outcome, the initiatives reshaped American human rights dynamics and laid an important foundation for human rights contests to come. For this reason, beyond presenting the actors and strategies involved, this chapter is largely devoted to evaluating the two early initiatives introduced and exploring the subsequent evolution of the United States' domestic human rights landscape.

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