Third Annual Report Card of the Policies and Preferences of
Presidential
Administrations with Regard to Human Rights

In its third annual report on the human rights practices of US presidential administrations, the Center on Democratic Performance (CDP) at Binghamton University gives President Bush a D' for his policies and performance on central issues of human rights for the year 2005. (The complete report card is below.) This reflects a decline of one grade over 2004, attributable mostly to reports on the use of political detention without trial, torture of political detainees, and the use of secret detention of political prisoners. On most other indicators of human rights policy such as recognition of leaders from countries deemed repressive, and budgetary consideration of human rights issues, and treaties the Administration remained relatively static from last year.

For a complete description of how the grades are established click here, but in general the grade is developed by using a weighted score based on seven indicators that reflect the policies and preferences of an administration to issues of human rights. Those seven indicators are: 1) references to human rights in the State of the Union address, 2) Amnesty International's report on human rights violations by the US, 3) child welfare provisions,* 4) approval of requests for asylum from highly repressive countries, 5) visits by heads of states from highly repressive countries, 6) the number of human rights agreements signed during the year, and 7) the percent of the discretionary budget allocated for human rights programs. Each indicator is weighted in accordance with its importance to determining the direction of policy and preferences. More directly, the report assumes that reports of political prisoners and torture bear a greater impact on the record of the Administration than do budget allocations and child welfare provisions.

We use data from three previous presidents (Carter, Reagan, Bush I) to establish a standard by which the grades are determined. The standard is predicated on the mean score on each indicator that results from the combined policies of the Carter, Reagan, Bush I, and the current presidential record. The current performance is then based on the extent of the deviation from this mean. In effect, the policies over the past 25 years set a baseline from which current years are evaluated. Each of the past presidents used to establish the baseline would have received better grades than the current Administration.

While we do not necessarily use the performance of the Administration on our indicators to reflect a comparison to the performance of other countries, we do see it as one mechanism to evaluate the policies of the current administration vis-à-vis its predecessors, and the professed goals of the United States. In effect, this is a performance indicator of the US policies over time. One might compare, for instance, how likely we would be to hear charges of prisoner abuse and torture if one of the president's predecessors were in office. Our report also gives some credence to the charges that abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib prisons, the use of secret detention facilities, and widespread torture stem from broad policies set at the upper levels of the administration rather than from rogue members of the armed forces.

* The current report no longer includes the number of juvenile executions among the indicators of child welfare provisions as the U.S. Supreme Court abolished such executions on March 1, 2005. Three such executions that were scheduled to occur during 2004 were stayed while the case ( Roper v. Simmons ) was appealed to and then considered by the Court. (The Court granted certiorari on Roper v. Simmons (No. 03-633) on 26 January 2004 and heard oral arguments on October 13, 2004.) Prior to the decision, the U.S. was one of only six countries in which the juvenile death penalty was lawful.

References to Human Rights in State of the Union Address
D/65
Violations against "integrity of person"/political prisoners
F/50
Child welfare provisions
C/75
Approved requests for political asylum
C/75
Visits by Heads of State from human rights abusing countries
B/85
Signed human rights agreements

B/85

Discretionary budget allocation for international human rights assistance
C/75
Overall grade
D/69