May 25, 2013
Deal with Iran is stain on banner of human rights
CHARLESTON, South Carolina — The newspaper cutting of an article titled “The Argentine Gulag” is yellow with age. It is from The New York Times of July 16, 1981. The authors are Héctor Timerman and Tom A. Bernstein.
The article begins by reporting the Argentine foreign minister complaining to the US charge d’affaires in Buenos Aires about allegations that there are concentration camps in Argentina.
Argentina’s foreign minister in 1981 was Oscar Camilión. He was complaining about allegations made by Héctor Timerman, who is foreign minister today. The article notes that Camilión told reporters Timerman’s allegations were “intolerable” and likened Timerman to Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda, accusing both Héctor and his father, the late Jacobo Timerman, of spreading “the big lie.”
That yellowed scrap of newsprint turned up when my wife was sorting through a box of papers. I had been thinking about Héctor Timerman as he was when I first knew him and as he is today when this article, written more than 31 years ago, suddenly appeared.
It was serendipity.
The key passage in the article is this:
“There are at present thousands of ‘disappeared,’ including hundreds of children, who may still be alive. The other day, representatives of The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo — mothers of the ‘disappeared’ — travelled to the United States to plead their cause. They want to know where their children are and who is responsible for their ‘disappearance’ and death. The only hope for those still in the camps, they say, is a full accounting of the ‘disappeared.’ The world is witnessing a crime against humanity. Those responsible must answer for their crimes. In a sense, the generals already have imprisoned themselves. Each day the world learns more about what they have done and there is nothing they can do to stop this. It is only a matter of time before they will be judged.”
Those words proved to be prophetic.
When the article was written, Héctor Timerman had just received a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University, New York. Tom A. Bernstein was a member of the Lawyers Committee for International Human Rights. His father Robert, as CEO of Random House, published Jacobo Timerman’s influential book Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number, a personal testimony of his kidnapping, torture and imprisonment in a clandestine jail. Jacobo Timerman’s eloquent memoir of horror is today in the canon of literature of human rights. It has one flaw. It does not tell the whole truth of Jacobo Timerman’s calvary, but the name Timerman will be forever associated with the moment in time when human rights became a factor in government policy and statecraft.
Given a welcome and granted a haven in the United States, the Timerman family flourished. Jacobo and Héctor played major roles in the formative years of the international human rights movement led by president Jimmy Carter who declared in June 1977 that a new world was dawning. “It is a new world, and we should help to shape it,” he said. “It is a new world that calls for a new American foreign policy — a policy based on constant decency in its values and on optimism in our historical vision. Our policy is derived from a larger view of global change. Our policy is rooted in our moral values, which never change. Our policy is reinforced by our material wealth and by our military power. Our policy is designed to serve mankind. And it is a policy that I hope will make you proud to be Americans.”
That radical change in US foreign policy changed the course of Argentine history. The Carter administration challenged the ruthless dictatorship that ruled Argentina when the military seized power on March 24, 1976. Some remarkable people came to the fore. Patricia Derian, appointed to the new post of Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, came to the rescue of Argentina by demanding an end to “disappearances” (forced abductions), torture and mass murder and insisting on a return to rule of law. That revolutionary change in US foreign policy from support of brutal regimes on the grounds that they opposed communism to one based on morality was put into effect by a young diplomat newly posted to Argentina.
Now retired from the US Foreign Service, his name is F. Allen Harris, but he is known simply as ‘Tex‘ Harris.
“Tex” Harris will be arriving in Buenos Aires tomorrow for his third visit to Argentina since he made history by documenting the “disappearances” — and saving lives in the process — while giving a human face to decency in US values and optimism in the historical vision of the United States.
It is to be hoped that his presence here will remind Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman of the time when human rights were synonymous with human decency and morality. It is sad for me to see the banner of human rights stained by association with the regime that rules Iran, where public hangings are commonplace, women are repressed, international terrorism is sponsored, anti-Semitism is state policy and world peace is threatened by Tehran’s drive to acquire nuclear weapons.
See, among a long list of sites cataloguing abuse of human rights and crimes against humanity:
There is nothing to be gained and much to lose by going through with the deal signed by Timerman and Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi in Ethiopia on January 27. There is no possible way that an oxymoronic “Truth Commission” in Tehran will help survivors and relatives of victims of the 1994 terror bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community social centre discover the truth.