Torture. Extrajudicial killings. Arbitrary detention. The United States and Iran have a lot in common, really. But there’s a key difference: while the Iranian regime tends to undertake its crimes against humanity within Iran, the U.S. does it _all over the world_, from Lithuania to Egypt, and condones and/or enables countless more abuses on the part of its allies. Predictably, though, rather than discuss that uncomfortable truth politicians and major news outlets in America take a keen interest in Iran’s human rights abuses while only mentioning, say, “Gaza” if they mispronounce the name of their kids’ favorite musician — it helps focus attention on the next Hitler du jour instead of America’s own shaky relationship with the rule of law, providing an easy opening for some shameless moral exhibitionism on the part of the ruling class and its media parrots.
Take State Department spokesman Philip Crowley’s statement at a press briefing on Wednesday that “Iran is increasingly showing itself to be a police state.” Now, there is no question the Iranian government has a horrendous record on human rights. And we are right to laugh when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad’s attempts to equate the two, as it would be ridiculous to at all suggest that Iran’s record is in any way comparable to that of the United States. Indeed, their records are as far apart as could be — after all, here in the U.S. we imprison people at a per capita rate three times that of Iran (pdf), with more than one in 100 American adults behind bars.
And while using illegal drugs is liable to get one thrown in prison in these United States, something called PBS (an acronym for a terrorist organization, most likely) reports the Iranian government has been “remarkably pragmatic” with regard to its drug policy, funding needle exchanges and methadone clinics rather than private prisons for a steady supply of non-violent drug offenders like some other countries. Further, though the U.S. government admits to having had more than 100 of its prisoners die in its custody — many murdered during the course of one of those infamous we-were-just-defending-freedom “harsh interrogation techniques” — the Obama administration has generally decided to “look forward, not backward” on such crimes, whereas Iran is set to prosecute a dozen officials in the deaths of several opposition protesters (though let’s be honest, both countries would never go after the big guns — something in common!). And, of course, the U.S. committed the ultimate human rights violation and war crime with the invasion of Iraq, killing at a least a quarter million people and driving millions more from their homes in the name of WMDs, or democracy, or . . . something (in the last two centuries Iran has invaded no one). So again, really, it would be terribly unfair to conflate Iran’s human rights record with that of the United States, with its almost 2.5 million people held as cattle behind bars.
(It should be said, though, that U.S. officials, unlike their swarthy counterparts, are careful not to violate any statutes when they torture or kill someone, a task made a bit easier when the state’s finest legal minds all agree that arbitrarily defined “enemy combatants” are not “persons” under the law.)