Are truth, justice the American way?

Updated: 2007-03-09 07:24

US soldiers detain Iraqis as they inspect their car in Muqdadiyah, Iraq, 90 kilometers north of Baghdad. AP

On March 6, the US State Department released its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2006. As in previous years, the State Department pointed the finger at human rights conditions in more than 190 countries and regions, including China, but avoided touching on the human rights situation in the United States. To help the world have a better understanding of the situation in the United States and promote the international cause of human rights, we hereby publish the Human Rights Record of the United States in 2006.

I. On Life, Property and Security of Person

The life, property and personal security of people of the United States are affected by rampant violent crimes. The US Justice Department reported on September 10, 2006 that there were 5.2 million violent crimes in the United States in 2005, up 2.5 percent from the previous year, the highest rate in 15 years.

Statistics released by the US Justice Department in 2006 showed that in 2005 American residents aged 12 or above experienced 23 million crimes; for every 1,000 persons aged 12 or older, there occurred 1 rape or sexual assault, 1 assault with injury, and 3 robberies. (Bureau of Justice Statistics Criminal Victimization, in: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs.)

Murder, robbery and other violent crimes reported in the United States jumped 3.7 percent in the first half of 2006 over the same period in 2005, with robbery alone up by a startling 9.7 percent.

Murders that occurred in cities with a population of between 500,000 and 1 million in the same period were up by 8.4 percent year on year. (FBI: Violent Crimes up in 1st Half of '06. MSNBC.com, December 19, 2006. in: http://msnbc.msn.com/id/11497293.)

In the first half of 2006, murder was up a whopping 27.5 percent in Boston. In Memphis, murder increased 43 percent in 2006. In Cincinnati, murder was up 19 percent in the first six months of 2006.

Robbery increases for the first half of 2006 across the United States were stunning: Rochester, N.Y., up 47 percent; suburban Montgomery County, Md., up 37 percent; Minneapolis up 36.8 percent. (Startling New Stats Show Cross-Country Crime Spike. ABC News, October 12, 2006.)

From January 1 to December 10, there were 384 slayings in Philadelphia, and the number exceeded the total toll of victims in 2005. (City Effort Needs to Grow. Editorial, Philadelphia Inquirer, December 12, 2006.)

During the first 11 months in 2006, 147 murders were reported in New Orleans. That means New Orleanians were murdering each other at a rate of 73.5 murders per 100,000 residents, exceeding that of the nation's most murderous city Compton, California, whose rate was 67 murders per 100,000 people in 2005. (Crime Takes Hold of New Orleans. USA Today, December 1, 2006.)

Orlando, Florida, reported 42 murders in the first 10 months in 2006, nearly double the 22 slayings last year in the city of 200,000 people. (USA Today, November 1, 2006)

And in Washington, the police department declared a crime emergency and a 10 p.m. curfew for juveniles in July 2006, after the city had 11 homicides in 13 days. (Police Chiefs Cite Youths in Crime Rise, Call for More Federal Funds. The Washington Post, August 31, 2006.)

The Washington Post reported on December 14, 2006 that there had been 35 bank robberies in Montgomery County in 2006, with three banks robbed on December 13 within minutes of each other.

The United States has the largest number of privately owned guns in the world. The unchecked spread of guns has caused many murders.

A report released by the US Justice Department in 2006 said that in 2005, 477,040 victims of violent crimes stated that they faced an offender with a firearm.

A Washington metropolitan police department report stated in 2006 that from 2001 to 2005, 901 of 1,126 homicide victims, or about 80 percent, were fatally shot, while the percentage in New Orleans was 92 percent. (District Slaying Usually with Gun. The Washington Times, November 17, 2006.)

Chicago was hit with 5 slayings and 3 injuries on late May 20 and early May 21, 2006. (Weekend Shooting Kills 5. The Chicago Tribune, May 22, 2006.)

On November 16, Detroit reported 2 people killed and 3 injured within 10 minutes in the city's west. (Detroit Man Charged with Murder, Assault in Apparently Random Shooting Spree That Killed 2. AP, Nov. 20, 2006.)

In Kansas, Missouri, a man shot five people to death on Dec. 16, including his longtime girlfriend and three of their children. He then killed himself. (Man kills 5 in Family, Then Self. The Kansas City Star, Dec. 17, 2006.)

And on Christmas Eve of 2006, a gunman opened fire at shopping people in a shopping mall in Florida, and then on the police, killing one man. (Mall Shooter Likely Knew Victim, Police Say. CNN.com, Dec. 24, 2006.)

Campus shootings are rampant in the United States. The country reported 3 campus shootings in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Colorado within one week from the end of September to the beginning of October 2006. Five girls were fatally shot and 6 others injured during a shooting incident in an Amish school in Pennsylvania on Oct. 2, 2006. (Man Shoots 11, Killing 5 Girls, in Amish School. The New York Times, Oct. 3, 2006.)

II. On Human Rights Violations by Law Enforcement and Judicial Departments

In the United States, human rights violations committed by law enforcement and judicial departments are common.

Police abuses are very serious. A Human Rights Watch report issued on December 4, 2006 said that since the September 11 attacks, the US Department of Justice has used material witness warrants to imprison without charge at least 70 men.

The Washington Post reported on December 1, 2006 that citizen complaints filed with a review board about alleged New York Police Department abuses had increased by 60 percent from 2001 to 2005.

Craig Futterman, a law professor of the University of Chicago who has studied the Chicago Police Department's handling of complaints against officers, said over the past five years, 662 out of 13,500 police officers in Chicago had been the subject of 10 or more complaints, and he saw "a picture of impunity within the Chicago Police Department. You have a small number of officers who perpetrate crimes who have absolute impunity." (The Chicago Tribune, November 29, 2006)

In September 2006, four members of the Special Operations Section of the Chicago Police Department were arrested for allegations of a string of robberies, kidnappings and false arrests. But investigation showed that the police internal affairs division had been aware of numerous allegations against the officers for four years without taking disciplinary action against them.

In November 2006, two former inmates at Cook County Jail filed suit in federal court alleging that they were attacked by guards and severely beaten while they were handcuffed.

Michael Mejia, one of the inmates, was handcuffed by guards, who then grabbed the back of his neck and slammed his head and face into the cement wall. The officers also stomped and kicked the inmates when they were handcuffed and lying on the floor. The two men later filed complaints, but the jail's internal affairs division decided not to investigate. (Ex-inmates Charge County Jail Beating. The Chicago Tribune, November 15, 2006)

On November 17, 2006, Mostafa Tabatabainejad, a 23-year-old senior of the UCLA, was stunned with a Taser by a campus police officer after he refused requests to show his ID card.( The Los Angeles Times, November 17, 2006)

On the morning of Nov. 25, 2006, five officers from the New York Police Department fired 50 bullets at a car with three unarmed men inside after the car struck an unmarked police van. The car was hit by 21 bullets. One man in the car was killed and the other two were wounded.( The Associated Press, November 25, 2006)

On Dec. 5, 2006, a Los Angeles police officer, Sean Joseph Meade, was caught on videotape applying a chokehold to a handcuffed 16-year-old boy inside the Central Division station. The officer's actions were recorded by a hidden camera that had been installed in the chair. (The Los Angeles Times, December 8, 2006)

Injustice of the judiciary is quite shocking. A year-long investigation by The New York Times of New York State's town and village courts found a long trail of judicial abuses and errors. In some cases, defendants were sent to jail without a guilty plea or a trial, or tossed from their homes without a proper proceeding. (In Tiny Courts of N.Y., Abuses of Law and Power. The New York Times, September 25, 2006)

The Associated Press reported on March 4, 2006 that nearly all records are being kept secret for more than 5,000 defendants who completed their journey through the federal courts from 2003 to 2005. The percentage of defendants who have reached verdicts and been sentenced but still have most of their records sealed rose from 1.1 percent in 2003 to 2.7 percent in 2005. Such cases showed that the US constitutional presumption for openness in the courts is not honored.

Frame-up and wrong cases can be widely found. The Los Angles Times reported in June 2006 that investigations and reviews by experts from the University of Michigan on 328 controversial criminal cases over the past 17 years found that all of them are frame-up or wrong cases. Based on that finding, experts estimated that currently there were tens of thousands of innocent people jailed in the United States.

A man in Chicago had been in prison since the mid-1990s after being convicted of raping a woman, and police turned down his repeated requests for DNA tests on the pretext of lack of evidence. In 2006, he was told that new DNA tests show that he was not the assailant.

Following the September 11 attacks in 2001, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other government agencies have referred 6,472 individuals to prosecutors on terrorism-related charges.

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University said nearly three-quarters of terrorism suspects seized by the United States in the five years following the September 11 attacks have not even made it to trial because of lack of evidence against them.

In 64 percent of the cases, federal prosecutors decided that they were not worth prosecuting, while an additional nine percent were either dismissed by judges or the individuals were found not guilty. (Agence France-Presse, September 4, 2006)

The United States has the world's largest number of prisoners.

According to a report issued by the US Department of Justice on November 30, 2006, by the end of 2005, nearly 2.2 million inmates were held in state and federal prisons or country and municipal jails.

The adult US correctional population, including those on probation or parole, reached a high of more than seven million men and women for the first time.

About 3 percent of the US adult population, or one in every 32 adults, were in the nation's prisons and jails or on probation or parole. Four states Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Oklahoma have incarceration rates of more than 650 per 100,000, with Louisiana soaring above all other states with the astonishing rate of 797. (US Addiction to Incarceration Puts 2.3 Million in Prison. Human Rights Watch, December 1, 2006)

As a result, state prisons were operating between one percent under and 14 percent over capacity. The federal system was operating at 34 percent over capacity. (Agence France-Presse, November 30, 2006)

According to a report of New York-based China Press on October 4, 2006, there were 173,000 people jailed in the prisons of California State, and 1,700 of them failed to have normal living conditions. In 33 prisons the number of inmates was more than twice the capacity. Some gymnasiums were changed into temporary shelters for prisoners and even churches were used temporarily for prisoners to sleep.

Abuses in US prisons are also common. The United States is the only country in the world that allows the use of police dogs to terrify prisoners. An investigative report by the Human Rights Watch said that five state prison systems in the United States, including Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, South Dakota and Utah, permit the use of aggressive, unmuzzled dogs to terrify and even attack prisoners in efforts to remove them from their cells.

Connecticut prisons were found to have used police dogs nearly 20 times to take on prisoners. In Iowa State, 63 such cases were reported from March 2005 to March 2006.

A US government report, issued on Jan. 16, 2006, said that five prisons were negligent to illegal immigrants who went on hunger strike or committed suicide.

The illegal immigrants were also provided with half-cooked food. (The Washington Post, January 17, 2007)

It was reported that the Florida State Prison used chemical agents against prisoners 238 times in 2000, 285 times in 2001, 447 in 2002 and 611 in 2003 and 277 in 2004, which left 10 prisoners seriously injured and some with mental diseases. (www. Allhatnocattle.net, February 13, 2006)

The United States has nearly 60 "super-security prisons", housing about 2,000 prisoners. The inmates are jailed in 6-square-meter wards, which are sound proof with lights and monitors on around the clock. Such prisons have left many prisoners with mental diseases.

What's more, prisoners are often deprived of some basic rights. An editorial of The New York Times on July 31, 2006 said that the United States has the worst record in the "free world" when it comes to stripping convicted felons of the right to vote. In contrast, most European countries hold that right so dear that they bring ballot boxes into prisons.

Prisons are hotbeds of disease and crime.

A report, issued by the US Department of Justice on September 7, 2006, said that more than half of the inmates in US prisons suffered from mental problems.

About 56 percent of inmates in state prisons, 64 percent in detention houses and 45 percent of federal prisoners had received treatment or shown symptoms of various mental diseases, including serious melancholia, mania and hallucination.

More than 1.5 million inmates are released each year carrying life threatening contagious diseases. (Rising Prison Problems Begin to Trickle into Society. USA Today, June 12, 2006)

Each year, approximately 7,000 Americans die in US prisons. Some of these deaths are from natural causes, but many more result from mental disorders left undiagnosed and diseases left untreated. (Prison Death: A National Shame. The Baltimore Sun, December 6, 2006)

A report published by the US Department of Justice in November 2006 showed that an estimated 37 percent of county and municipal jail inmates reported having a current medical problem other than a cold or virus, in a national survey.

During 2004, the number of confirmed AIDS cases in state and federal prisons increased from 5,944 to 6,027. The rate of confirmed AIDS cases in state and federal prisoners (50 per 10,000 prison inmates) was more than three times higher than in the total US population (15 per 10,000 persons).

Suicides among inmates are rising. The USA Today reported on December 28, 2006 that 41 inmates committed suicide in California in 2006. In Texas's prison system, there were 24 suicides. Texas prisons also reported 652 attempted suicides in 2006, an increase of 17 percent compared with the number in 2005.

Sexual assaults in US prisons are common. A report by the United Nations Committee Against Torture on May 19, 2006 said that at least 13 percent of inmates in US prisons had suffered from sexual assaults and many have suffered frequent sexual abuses.

It estimated that nearly 200,000 inmates currently in prisons were or will become victims of sexual violence. The number of prisoners who had suffered sexual assaults over the past 20 years is likely to exceed one million.

III. On Civil and Political Rights

In recent years, American citizens have suffered increasing civil rights infringements.

Since the September 11 attacks, the US government has put average Americans under intense surveillance as part of terrorism investigations.

According to a survey released in December 2006, two-thirds of Americans believe that the FBI and other federal agencies are intruding on their privacy rights. (The Washington Post, December 13, 2006)

A report from the US Justice Department, dated April 28, 2006, disclosed that its use of electronic surveillance and search warrants in national security investigations jumped 15 percent in 2005.

According to the report, the FBI issued 9,254 national security letters in 2005, covering 3,501 US citizens and legal foreign residents.

The Justice Department said the data did not include what probably were thousands of additional letters issued to obtain more limited information about some individuals or letters that were issued about targets who were in the US illegally. (The Los Angeles Times, April 29, 2006)

Reports show a Pentagon research team monitors more than 5,000 jihadist websites, focusing daily on the 25 to 100 most hostile and active. (MSNBC News Service, May 4, 2006)

An internal memo of the FBI shows that the agency has spent resources gathering information on anti-war and environmental protesters and on activists who feed vegetarian meals to the homeless. In the United States, the government has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans.

According to USA Today, more employers feel they have justifiable reason to pry, track workers' whereabouts through Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite, implant employees with microchips and hire private investigators to check up on what employees are really doing at work.

According to a study by the American Management Association and The ePolicy Institute, 76 percent of companies monitor employees' website connections, 65 percent block access to specific sites, and 36 percent track the content, keystrokes and time spent at the keyboard. More than half the employers retain and review e-mail messages. (USA TODAY, Nov. 7, 2006)

As The Associated Press reported on January 4, 2007, a signing statement attached to postal legislation by US administration may have allowed for the government to open mail without a warrant.

An internal review of the US State Department has found that US officials screened the public statements and writings of private citizens for criticism of the administration before deciding whether to select them for foreign speaking projects.

The vetting practice, the Washington Post said, appears to have been part of the administration's pattern of controlling information, muffling dissenting views. (The Washington Post, Nov. 2, 2006)

On May 23, 2006, Electronic Frontier Foundation, a US-based organization committed to protecting citizens'privacy, accused the FBI of undercutting the intent of the privacy law, saying the agency has built a database with more than 659 million records culled from more than 50 FBI and other government agency sources. (http://www.eff.org/press/ Aug. 30, 2006)

The United States touts itself as the "beacon of democracy", but the US mode of democracy is, essentially, one in which money talks.

In 2004, candidates for the House of Representatives who raised less than one million US dollars had almost no chance of winning, the USA TODAY quoted a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics as saying in a report on Oct. 29, 2006.

The average successful Senate campaign cost 7 million dollars, it said. In 2006, all state campaigns in the United States were predicted to cost about 2.4 billion dollars.

In California, the oil and tobacco industries were the year's two biggest spenders with a total of 161.6 million dollars, and they became the two biggest winners. (The Los Angeles Times, Nov. 9, 2006)

In the House race in Pennsylvania, the National Republican Congressional Committee spent 3.9 million dollars, mostly in ads against Democratic candidate Lois Murphy, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent 3 million dollars against Republican candidate Jim Gerlach. (The Baltimore Sun, Nov. 6, 2006)

Seventy-four percent of respondents to a new Opinion Research poll say the US Congress is generally out of touch with average Americans, as CNN reported on October 18, 2006, and 79 percent of those surveyed say they feel big business has too much influence over the administration's decisions.

Corruption is a serious problem in US politics.

More than 1,000 government employees, including hundreds of police officers, have been convicted in FBI graft cases in the past two years.

Former high-powered lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion charges, revealing the biggest scandal of trading money for power to hit Washington in decades. (CNN, Jan. 3, 2006)

Meanwhile, four Republicans have resigned from the House under a cloud in the year. A handful of other members of the Congress are under investigation. (USA Today, Dec. 12, 2006)

Over the past five-and-a-half years, US Republican and Democratic lawmakers accepted nearly $50 million in trips, often to resorts and exclusive locales, as The Washington Post reported on June 6, 2006.

From January 2000 through June 2005, House and Senate members and their aides were away from Washington for more than 81,000 days a combined 222 years on at least 23,000 trips.

US lawmakers accepted thousands of costly jaunts to some of the world's choicest destinations: at least 200 to Paris, 150 to Hawaii and 140 to Italy, it said.

Twenty-five individual lawmakers accepted more than $120,000 worth of travel during the period and private trip sponsors spent the most money on about two dozen congressional offices. (Seattle Times, June 6, 2006)

In the United States, scandals of government manipulating the media give the lie to press freedom in the country. To serve its political purposes, the US government often produces fake news stories and passes them off as normal news to domestic and overseas audiences.

The US State Department, among 20 federal agencies, was found to have produced and distributed such items. (The Independent, May 29, 2006)

In recent years, some journalists were harassed or detained by US law enforcement agencies for declining to reveal their sources.

In 2005, a Rhode Island TV reporter spent four months confined at home by a judge for refusing to expose the source.

In San Francisco, a federal prosecutor tried to force two San Francisco Chronicle reporters to reveal sources of secret grand jury testimony used in stories. (USA Today, June 22, 2006)

Two journalists were sentenced to 18 months in prison for contempt of court in September 2006 and another Los Angeles freelancer was sent to prison for a year on a contempt charge after refusing to turn over to a grand jury his private video clips. (SFGate.com August 1, 2006)

IV. On Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

The United States is the richest country in the world, but it lacks proper guarantees for people's economic, social and cultural rights.

Americans in poverty constitute the "Third World" of US society. A report released by the US Census Bureau on August 29, 2006 said there were 37 million people living in poverty in 2005, accounting for 12.6 percent of total US population.

The report also said there were 7.7 million families in poverty and one out of eight Americans was living in poverty in 2005. The poverty rates of Cleveland and Detroit were as high as 32.4 percent and 31.4 percent respectively - nearly one out of three was living under the poverty line.

AFP reported on February 24, 2007 that based on the latest available US census data, the McClatchy Newspapers analysis found that almost 16 million Americans live in "deep or severe poverty", the highest number since at least 1975, up by 26 percent from 2000 to 2005.

Between 2000 and 2005, the US economy grew by 12 percent in real terms and productivity, measured by output per hour worked in the business sector, which rose 17 percent.

Over the same period, the median hourly wage - the wage the average American takes home - rose only three percent in real (inflation-adjusted) terms. That, compared with a 12 percent gain in the previous five years, was lower than it was in 2000. (Financial Times, Nov. 2, 2006)

Hunger and homelessness remain a critical issue. A report released by US Department of Agriculture on November 15, 2006 revealed that in the previous year 34.8 million Americans did not have enough money or other resources to buy food.

A survey on 23 US cities including Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles by the US Conference of Mayors found that in 2006 requests for emergency food assistance increased by an average of seven percent over 2005, with 74 percent of the cities registering an increase.

Also, requests for emergency shelter assistance increased by an average of nine percent over 2005, with 68 percent of the surveyed cities showing an increase. (US Conference of Mayors-Sodexho, Inc. Release 2006 Hunger and Homelessness Survey, www.usmayors.org)

Currently, there are 600,000 or so homeless people nationwide, including 16,000 homeless in Washington D.C. and 3,800 in New York City. (The New York Times, The Washington Post and Reuters reports, October to December, 2006)

It is estimated there are 3,000 to 4,000 homeless people in Baltimore on any given night. (The Baltimore Sun, Nov. 20, 2006)

In Hawaii, around 1,000 homeless people are living in tents along beaches. (The New York Times, Dec. 4, 2006)

A survey found that in Los Angeles City and surrounding communities there were 88,345 homeless people, and the mayor declared the city to be "the capital of homelessness in America." (The Los Angeles Times, Jan. 12, 2006)

The average living standards in the United States are among the highest in the world but the United States lags behind most countries in legal protection for labor and family-friendly policies in the workplace.

The Voice of America reported on February 4, 2007 that a study of 173 countries with high, middle and low income jointly conducted by Harvard University and McGill University found the United States is one of only five countries that do not guarantee some form of paid maternity leave, the other four countries being Lesotho, Liberia, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea.

Of the 173 countries, 137 provide paid annual leave but there is no federal law to guarantee such leave in the United States.

(China Daily 03/09/2007 page20)