The venerable human rights group announced Thursday morning that their new chairman of the Board is Michael Chertoff, who was Secretary of Homeland Security from 2005 to 2009. As Jesse Walker of Reason points out, Chertoff is an odd pick for an organization that purports to advocate for human rights since he was in the thick of many of the worst civil liberty abuses of the presidency of George W. Bush.
As Walker details, Chertoff as assistant attorney general “helped write the USA Patriot Act; he also played a central role in detaining hundreds of Arabs and Muslims without filing charges against them, a roundup that the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General later called ‘indiscriminate and haphazard.’ After George W. Bush tapped him to run the Department of Homeland Security, Chertoff’s intrusive efforts ranged from warrantless ICE raids to a push for a national ID card. Since leaving office, he has been a vocal advocate of installing full-body scanners in airports—and a lobbyist for the companies that manufacture the scanners.”
Freedom House already has a controversial record. The organization has long received funding from the United States government, and critics have argued it has a double standard of judging the United States and its allies more indulgently than America’s foreign policy foes.
In 2006, The Financial Times reported that Freedom House was involved in clandestine activities inside Iran. These activities, especially as they were in competition with receiving funding from the American government, were widely criticized by other human rights groups, who saw them as delegitimizing democracy promotion.
“The danger is that this is a move towards covert political warfare that will completely stymie the whole idea of democracy-building,” Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, a leader of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, told The Financial Times.
Chertoff’s new appointment only confirms existing criticism of Freedom House.