Writing about US human rights policy from the outside is always a disconcerting experience. All bets are off, and all assumptions are turned on their head. Assumptions from the South looking North are that, rhetoric aside, US interests rarely if ever feature human rights protection and promotion in first place. What’s more, they have very frequently featured the opposite: dirty tricks, torture and rendition were sadly familiar to students of Latin American history long before Guantanamo. The Clinton years went some way towards reining in the more blatant contradictions of the 1980s, but they also set in train the easy and often misused equation between US style democracy and rights that paved the way for “preventive” regime change under Bush. US invocations of freedom have always, in other words, been selective even within its shores and often seem quite irreconcilable with the reality of its actions beyond them.

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