The Carr Center for Human Rights Policy serves as the hub of the Harvard Kennedy School’s research, teaching, and training in the human rights domain. The center embraces a dual mission: to educate students and the next generation of leaders from around the world in human rights policy and practice; and to convene and provide policy-relevant knowledge to international organizations, governments, policymakers, and businesses.
Alexis de Tocqueville observed in 1835 that “the greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.” Tocqueville’s observation, broadly accurate over the past two centuries, is facing perhaps its most severe test today.
In its 2016 “Democracy Index” report, the Economist Intelligence Unit downgraded the United States from a “full” to a “flawed democracy.” In 2018, Freedom House offered a more dire assessment: “[D]emocratic institutions have suffered erosion, as reflected in partisan manipulation of the electoral process, bias and dysfunction in the criminal justice system, and growing disparities in wealth, economic opportunity, and political influence.”
Declining participation and confidence in government are not new, but the populist forces that propelled the election of Donald Trump signaled a new level of public disillusionment with democratic politics and institutions. During his campaign and first year in office, Trump’s core constituency cheered him on as he attacked fundamental elements of liberal democracy, including media freedom, judicial independence, and a pluralist civil society.
A new report from the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy examines the democratic checks and balances in the US, and measures their resiliency in the first year of the Trump administration, comparing US response to illiberal democracies worldwide.
The president asked SecDef and Congress to ensure that detention policies support warfighting aims. That should mean shutting Gitmo down.
Will President Trump close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay?
This question may sound preposterous. After all, President Obama, who called the prison a threat to national security and American ideals, actually tried to close it. President Trump, by contrast, is on record as vehemently favoring not only its continuation but its expansion. On Jan. 30 he reaffirmed that commitment both in his State of the Union address and in an executive order revoking President Obama’s order commanding its closure.
Why, then, even raise the prospect of closing Guantanamo during this administration? The answer lies in two related actions recently taken by the president: his command to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to “reexamine our military detention policy” and report back to him within 90 days and his request to Congress to ensure that “we continue to have all necessary power to detain terrorists.” The two actions in conjunction represent an unexpected open-mindedness on the part of the president with respect to detention policy. By seeking a broad-focus, “blank-sheet-of-paper” review, asking Mattis to take charge, and inviting Congress to join with them, President Trump acted prudently and, dare I say it, wisely.
“The Carr Center is building a bridge between ideas on human rights and the practice on the ground. Right now we are at a critical juncture. The pace of technological change and the rise of authoritarian governments are both examples of serious challenges to the flourishing of individual rights. It’s crucial that Harvard and the Kennedy School continue to be a major influence in keeping human rights ideals alive. The Carr Center is a focal point for this important task.”
- Mathias Risse