The Chinese government last week released its annual assessment of what it calls the “Human Rights Record of the United States.” The document is a jab at our own State Department’s surveys of political freedom and human rights in the Middle Kingdom. Complaints of abuse emanating from a nation that oppresses the people of Tibet, suppresses Christians and mows down political protesters with tanks would be easy to ignore. As hard as it is to say this, China has a point.
Beijing identifies a number of areas in which the United States fails to live up to the lofty promise of the Bill of Rights. At airports, for example, U.S. customs officials have confiscated laptops and cellphones from thousands of international passengers - including U.S. citizens and journalists - to download all of the information contained on the devices in a dragnet sweep looking for a crime. “There is no provision for judicial approval or supervision” of these techniques, the Chinese report notes. Despite court rulings on the subject, it’s impossible to rationalize this conduct under any reasonable interpretation of the Fourth Amendment. Likewise, many states allow police officers to attach GPS devices to vehicles as a means of covert tracking without first obtaining a warrant.
The abuses turn personal when the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) uses technology to strip innocent passengers naked and photograph them prior to boarding an airplane. Recently released video evidence shows blue-gloved TSA agents groping young children in a way that ought to put them on a sex-offenders list for the rest of their lives.
China’s report also detailed a number of incidents in which rogue cops beat down citizens, tortured suspects and shot unarmed men in major cities like New York, Chicago, Portland, Seattle and Houston. All of this is true, and frequently the evidence is recorded by a bystander and posted for all to see on YouTube - something that would not happen under a repressive regime. Moreover, in describing how Houston officers beat a 15-year-old burglary suspect, the Chinese report noted the resolution of the incident without realizing its significance: “After a two-month-long investigation, four officers were indicted and fired.”
That encapsulates the difference between the United States and China. Although the “thin blue line” and weak prosecutors sometimes shield rogue cops, these actions aren’t sanctioned by the country’s leaders. At the end of the day, corrupt politicians, judges, prosecutors and cops can all find themselves in jail cells for betraying the authority entrusted to them.
Even the officially sanctioned human-rights abuses of the TSA would be stopped by legislation introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, and Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Republican. Whether that happens or not is in the hands of an American public free to demand that their elected representatives take action. No such option is available in the People’s Republic.
Before we wag our fingers at the abuses of other countries, it’s worth taking the time to examine and correct our own faults. We would have much more credibility on the world stage were our own government to take the Constitution more seriously.