June 2, 2005

Amnesty International's "Gulag" Claim: Is It Real OR Is It Just Partisan Politics?

The Washington Times reports:

The top leadership of Amnesty International USA, which unleashed a blistering attack last week on the Bush administration's handling of war detainees, contributed the maximum $2,000 to Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign.

Federal Election Commission records show that William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty USA, contributed $2,000 to Mr. Kerry's campaign last year. Mr. Schulz also has contributed $1,000 to the 2006 campaign of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.

Also, Joe W. "Chip" Pitts III, board chairman of Amnesty International USA, gave the maximum $2,000 allowed by federal law to John Kerry for President. Mr. Pitts is a lawyer and entrepreneur who advises the American Civil Liberties Union...

Amnesty International describes itself as nonpartisan. Disclosure of the leadership's political leanings came yesterday as the Bush administration continued to lash out at the human rights group for remarks last week by Irene Khan, Amnesty's secretary-general.

Mrs. Khan compared the U.S. detention center at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where more than 500 suspected al Qaeda and Taliban members are held, to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's "gulag" prison system.

At the same time, Mr. Schulz issued a statement calling Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other top administration officials "architects of torture." Mr. Schulz suggested that other countries could file war-crime charges against the top officials and arrest them.

Since Sunday, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Vice President Dick Cheney; and President Bush have accused Amnesty International of irresponsible criticism.

Yesterday, it was Mr. Rumsfeld's turn.

"No force in the world has done more to liberate people that they have never met than the men and women of the United States military," Mr. Rumsfeld said at the Pentagon press conference. "That's why the recent allegation that the U.S. military is running a gulag at Guantanamo Bay is so reprehensible. Most would define a gulag as where the Soviet Union kept millions in forced labor concentration camps. ... To compare the United States and Guantanamo Bay to such atrocities cannot be excused."

Amnesty International has hit the White House for refusing to treat suspected al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists as prisoners of war subject to the Geneva Conventions; for abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq; and for a list of largely unsubstantiated complaints from detainees at Guantanamo.

Mr. Rumsfeld said "at least a dozen" of the 200 detainees released from Guantanamo "have already been caught back on the battlefield, involved in efforts to kidnap and kill Americans."

Mr. Schulz posted a statement yesterday on Amnesty's website that said, in part, "Donald Rumsfeld and the Bush administration ignored or dismissed Amnesty International's reports on the abuse of detainees for years, and senior officials continue to ignore the very real plight of men detained without charge or trial."...

For some of us, the logic is reasonably straightforward: We are in a global war against a terrorist group that has directly attacked our country and vowed to destroy America. The people conducting that war against us do not belong to one identifiable country and do not wear standard uniforms as in past wars. In the meantime, we have liberated two countries from tyranny.

With that as the fact pattern, all Amnesty International can do is say the USA is running a gulag, as if America is the reincarnation of Stalin's Soviet Union. Now who has a fact and reality problem?

While you are at it, go onto their website and do a search for their public comments about the misdeeds of Al Qaeda. Don't worry, it won't take you long because there is not a lot to read.

Here are some good postings from Austin Bay and JunkYardBlog. The former notes:

Amnesty International is paying a hard price for its PR cheap shot, and it should. Amnesty’s current leadership inhabits a self-referential echo chamber, and over the next few months will find that there is such a thing as bad publicity, particularly when an organization relies on "moral principles and human rights" An organization with genuine moral principles and genuine respect for human rights must be able to distinguish between scattered crime and focused genocide, between criminal actions at Abu Ghraib and Gitmo (on the one hand) and 9/11, the Taliban, Bali, Saddam, suicide bombers (etc) on the other. Koran flushing? Does anyone remember the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddas of Bamiyan? Does Amnesty? Amnesty has cheapened the language of suffering, and for an organization espousing Amnesty’s principles, this is a grievous error.

Then consider this article and ask yourself who is showing moral leadership in this war on terror:

Critics of the attack on Fallujah last November often invoked the damning (and mythical) utterance from Vietnam: "We had to destroy the village to save it." Never mind that the alternative to the massive assault on the city backed by artillery, tanks, and aircraft would either be a huge loss of American lives or simply allowing the al Qaeda cut-throat Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to keep it as the terrorist headquarters. Forget that the city was already crumbling from the neglect of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Today Fallujah is on the mend and then some, a symbol of renewal and American-Iraqi cooperation.

Although the area is still "red" — meaning hostile — as is all of the predominantly Sunni Anbar province, the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force is extending power lines and laying water and sewage pipes at a steady pace. Rubble and explosives — some left over from the fighting and some freshly laid by the insurgents — is being removed. Schoolhouses and hospitals are being fixed and erected. As a bonus, military-age males (known by the abbreviation "MAM") are receiving good wages to build things instead of blowing up people.

As I traveled through the slowly repopulating city — about half of the original 250,000 are believed to have returned — I saw awesome scenes of destruction. But I also saw thriving markets, stores selling candy and ice cream, and scores of children delighted to see Americans. I did more waving than the beauty queen in the 4th of July parade and the kids squealed with delight when I took their picture...

...the 5th [Civil Affairs Group]is in charge of rebuilding the city in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers. He shows the value of drawing on a rich pool of reservists in that prior to be being called up he worked for General Electric, installing new power plants throughout the U.S.

Restoring and expanding access to electricity is top priority here, more so than access to running water because Iraqis pump water up from the mains to tanks on their roof. No electricity, no working pumps...

The goals are ambitious but they’re being met. All of Fallujah is scheduled to have electricity by January 2006. The Marines have the responsibility for bringing power to the pole, while the Iraqis take it from the pole into homes and shops.

Progress on bringing drinkable water into homes is even faster. "When we got here, we repaired every potable water system," says Williams. "Every section of the city that had pipelines before has them now."...

There are already enough schools and hospitals to serve the entire community, but they’re overcrowded and far from ideal. Everything fixable has or is being repaired and new modern facilities are going up...

"We’re certainly not trying to turn this into the equivalent of an American city," says Williams. "But it will be first class for an Iraqi one and that’s going to win the hearts and minds of the people." From the smiles, the thumbs up, the waves, and the cries of "Hello!" in Arabic I got from the children in even the worst parts of the city, I’d say they’re being won.

Helping out average Iraqi citizens: That sounds like Stalin, too, doesn't it?

So, is it real or is it just partisan politics? Looks like the answer is - WWJKS: What would John Kerry say? That tells all of us a lot, doesn't it?


A news report states:

The American head of Amnesty International admits his group did not pick the best analogy when it compared detainee conditions at Guantanamo Bay (search) to the Soviet-era "gulag" forced-labor system.

"There are only about 70,000 in U.S. detention facilities, and to the best of our knowledge, they are not in forced labor, they are not being denied food. But there are some analogies between the gulags and our detention facilities," William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said in an interview with FOX News...

Bush said "every single complaint" regarding those detained is investigated.

"It seemed like to me they [Amnesty International] based some of their decisions on the word of — and the allegations — by people who were held in detention, people who hate America, people that had been trained in some instances to disassemble — that means not tell the truth," the president added. "And so it was an absurd report. It just is."

While U.S. officials admit there have been sporadic cases of questionable treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, they say it's not at all widespread or of the magnitude Amnesty International claims. To refute that, Amnesty International on Thursday said officials should just open the doors of the detention center to humanitarian workers so they can see for themselves.

During a press briefing this week, Rumsfeld noted that most would define a "gulag" as where the Soviet Union kept millions of forced labor concentration camps "or where Saddam Hussein mutilated and murdered untold numbers because they held views unacceptable to his regime."

"To compare the United States and Guantanamo Bay (search) to such atrocities cannot be excused," he said. "Free societies depend on oversight and they welcome informed criticism, particularly on human rights issues. But those who make such outlandish charges lose any claim to objectivity or seriousness."...

A former Soviet prisoner who is a well-known human rights activist says comparing Gitmo to a Soviet gulag is off base.

"In Guantanamo Bay, there was a very serious violation of human rights and it's very important to deal with this and to correct it," said Natan Sharansky (search), a former Soviet dissident and political prisoner who was a prominent member of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's cabinet until May 2. "But the comparison of Amnesty International is very typical, unfortunately, for this organization, which has no moral clarity."

Sharansky argued that Amnesty International compromises its work by refusing to differentiate "between democracies where there are sometimes serious violations of human rights and dictatorships where no human rights exist at all."

"This comparison between gulag and Soviet Union and United States of America, erases all these differences," he said. "It makes moral equivalence between these two very different worlds and that's unfortunately very a typical, systematical, mistake of Amnesty International."...

...the group's international report has multiple pages criticizing Israel and milder critique of the Palestinian Authority. Meanwhile, the report devotes a similar amount of space to the slaughter in Sudan as it does poor treatment by police officers in Switzerland...


This report notes:

Despite highly publicized charges of U.S. mistreatment of prisoners at Guantanamo, the head of the Amnesty International USA said on Sunday the group doesn't "know for sure" that the military is running a "gulag."

Executive Director William Schulz said Amnesty...also had no information about whether Secretary Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved severe torture methods such as beatings and starvation...

Schulz said, "We don't know for sure what all is happening at Guantanamo and our whole point is that the United States ought to allow independent human rights organizations to investigate."

He also said he had "absolutely no idea" whether the International Red Cross had been given access to all prisoners and said the group feared others were being held at secret facilities or locations...

Schulz noted that it was Amnesty's headquarters in London that issued the annual report on global human rights, which said Guantanamo Bay "has become the gulag of our times."

Asked about the comparison, Schulz said, "Clearly this is not an exact or a literal analogy."...

"... But there are some similarities. The United States is maintaining an archipelago of prisons around the world, many of them secret prisons into which people are being literally disappeared ... And in some cases, at least, we know that they are being mistreated, abused, tortured and even killed."

"And whether the Americans like it or not, it does reflect how the more than 2 million Amnesty members in a hundred countries around the world and indeed the vast majority of those countries feel about the United States' detention policy," he added.

The Washington Times carried a related article.

Anne Bayefsky writes the following:

Amnesty International’s deliberate use of the word “gulag” to describe U.S. actions at Guantanamo should not have been a surprise...It is only the latest in a multi-year slide by the organization away from universal human-rights standards toward a politicized and anti-American agenda.

The change became abundantly clear at the U.N. World Conference Against Racism that took place in August and early September 2001. The final declaration of the forum of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) said Zionism, or the self-determination of the Jewish people, equals racism and went downhill from there. On the final day prior to the adoption of this declaration, international NGOs, including Amnesty, deliberated about their position as one caucus. As a representative of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists I was about to enter our meeting place along with the president of Amnesty, Irene Khan, when the chief representative of Human Rights Watch, Reed Brody, turned to me in the presence of the others and told me I was not welcome and had to go. Said Brody, to the objection of no one (although I had worked professionally with many of them for years), I represented Jews and therefore could not be trusted to be objective.

At Durban, Amnesty led the international NGO assault on universal standards. According to Khan, what mattered were “the voices of the victims.” In her words, “The victims of racism and related intolerance have described their own realities of racism and related intolerance as they experience it…This Declaration and Programme of Action is an inclusive text which enables our various perspectives to be presented at the World Conference.”

However, despite the rhetoric of “inclusiveness,” the Amnesty International chief sat on her hands when a motion to delete the voices of Jewish victims of racism was put to the vote and adopted. Every Jewish NGO from around the world walked out. Amnesty and company stayed.

Durban ended three days before 9/11...International human-rights organizations, with Amnesty at the helm, have cast the war on terror on one side and protection of human rights on the other. The preferred phraseology in U.N. lingo is “the protection of human rights while countering terrorism.” Mere lip service is paid to the rights violated by terrorism: There are no detailed global reports emanating from Amnesty International on the abominations of terrorists. Searching Amnesty’s website for “terrorism” elicits 25 reports — all on violations by those combating terrorism...

Amnesty is, however, correct in one important respect. For far too long Americans have ceded the language of international human rights to just about everyone else on the planet. The failure to make the case for key elements of American foreign policy in human-rights terms has left the field wide open to the haters of America and of democracy, allowing them to appropriate and subvert the political currency of human rights...

Amnesty International has a documented political bias that makes them deny the reality of the War on Terror and to push a political agenda that favors the enemies of the United States. And they expect us to take them seriously?


The Wall Street Journal states:

It's good to see that Amnesty International has had to backtrack from its comparison of Guantanamo Bay to the Soviet "gulag." Less than two weeks after making that analogy, Amnesty's U.S. boss issued what amounted to a full retraction on "Fox News Sunday" this weekend.

"Clearly, this is not an exact or a literal analogy," said William Schulz. "In size and in duration, there are not similarities between U.S. detention facilities and the gulag. . . . People are not being starved in those facilities. They're not being subjected to forced labor." Thanks for clearing that up.

And what about Mr. Schulz's description of Donald Rumsfeld and others as "apparent high-level architects of torture" who ought to be arrested and prosecuted? He was asked by host Chris Wallace, "Do you have any evidence whatsoever that he ever approved beating of prisoners, ever approved starving of prisoners, the kinds of things we normally think of as torture?" Mr. Schulz's response: "It would be fascinating to find out. I have no idea . . ."

In other words, Mr. Rumsfeld and the other U.S. officials Mr. Schulz maligned could probably now win a libel suit in many jurisdictions, were they inclined to press the issue...

But before leaving this episode, we'd like to remind readers of the case of Ahmed Hikmat Shakir. On November 19, 2001, Amnesty issued one of its "URGENT ACTION" reports on his behalf: "Amnesty International is concerned for the safety of Iraqi citizen Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, who is being held by the Jordanian General Intelligence Department. . . . He is held incommunicado detention and is at risk of torture or ill-treatment." Pressure from Amnesty and Saddam Hussein's Iraq worked; Mr. Shakir was released and hasn't been seen since.

Mr. Shakir is believed to be an al Qaeda operative who abetted the USS Cole bombing and 9/11 plots, among others. Along with 9/11 hijackers Khalid al Midhar and Nawaf al Hazmi, he was present at the January 2000 al Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He was working there as an airport "greeter"--a job obtained for him by the Iraqi embassy. When he was arrested in Qatar not long after 9/11, he had telephone numbers for the safe houses of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers. He was inexplicably released by the Qataris and promptly arrested again in Jordan as he attempted to return to Iraq.

There remains a dispute about whether this is the same Ahmed Hikmat Shakir that records discovered after the Iraq war list as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Saddam Fedayeen--the 9/11 Commission believes these are two different people--and whether Mr. Shakir thus represents an Iraqi government connection to 9/11. But there is no doubt that the Hussein regime, whatever its reasons, was eager to have the al Qaeda Shakir return to Iraq. It was aided and abetted to this end by Amnesty International.

We don't recount this story to suggest Amnesty was actively in league with Saddam. But it shows that, even after 9/11, Amnesty still didn't think terrorism was a big deal. In its eagerness to suggest that every detainee with a Muslim name is some kind of political prisoner, and by extension to smear America and its allies, Amnesty has given the concept of "aid and comfort" to the enemy an all-too-literal meaning.

Power Line adds some additional perspective:

Liberals of good will were stunned when Amnesty International compared U.S. detention of terrorists with the Soviet gulag. The Washington Post's editors found it "sad" that "a solid, trustworthy institution [had] los[t] its bearings and join[ed] in the partisan fracas that nowadays passes for political discourse." Bush administration critic Michael O'Hanlon echoed this sentiment. Showing less good will, but some discernment, E.J. Dionne found Amnesty International's gulag metaphor "outrageous," and wondered why the group would employ rhetoric that made it "so easy" for Bush to blow off its conclusions.

Now we have the answer -- it was a publicity stunt. As the Washington Times notes, Amnesty International's Executive Director William Schulz basically admitted as much on "Fox News Sunday." Unable to defend his gulag analogy, Schulz instead observed that if his group hadn't asserted that analogy, he wouldn't "be on this station, on this program today." To which Chris Wallace responded, "So you're saying if you make irresponsible charges, that's good for your cause?"

At one level it is. Dana Milbank...chortled that Schulz, in effect, is laughing his way to the bank, with traffic on Amnesty International's web site up sixfold, donations quintupled and new memberships doubled...

Not that long ago, Amnesty International represented the gold standard on the issue of human rights abuses. It has now forfeited that position apparently in order to get on television, obtain a temporary spike in contributions, and (of course) scratch the anti-Bush itch of its leaders, including Kerry campaign contributor Schulz.

The left's march through our institutions continues. The NAACP, the ACLU, the New York Times, and academia come to mind. But the perennial problem is this -- once captured, these institutions lose most of their value as outposts for the cause.

Power Line then brings it all home with this posting:

Have you been to the news page on the Amnesty International website? There's a huge banner there (like an ad banner) saying "USA Betraying Human Rights." Looking back...I can find no other time when the news page has carried a banner like that. I guess this situation warranted extra attention in that it is the most egregious and unconscionable deprivation of human rights going on in the world today. No, wait...what about North Korea, Belarus, Zimbabwe, China, Burma, etc., etc., etc. Where are the banners for them?...Basically it's saying "Let's just throw nuance and context right out the window and make a crude polemical statement"...By an organization that prides itself on specifics and close analysis of facts on the ground...

There was a time when Amnesty could legitimately claim to be a nonpartisan organization whose reports were carefully researched and reliable. Those days, unfortunately, are gone, and the organization no longer has any credibility.

So what do you think now?

Is Amnesty International fair and even-handed? Of course not. They should be identified for what they are, cranks who will boldly go to any length to to advance their crass political agenda. They are now on the wrong side of history.


James Robbins adds these thoughts to the public debate:

Amnesty International secretary general Irene Khan’s description of the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo as “the Gulag of our time” has come under heavy fire, both for its fallaciousness, and the implicit trivializing of the Soviet Gulag system in which tens of millions were imprisoned and uncountable numbers died...

What struck me the most was the use of the phrase “of our time,” as though the moral sense of humanity should be as offended as in the high days of Stalinism...That were it not for Guantanamo, our times would be gulag-free. But there is a more suitable candidate for the sobriquet, namely the Kwan-li-co, the system of concentration camps in North Korea, a lineal descendent of the Gulag. After all, North Korea is a bona fide Soviet state, run by the son of the man who Stalin put in power. Current dictator Kim Jong Il was reportedly born in the training camp in Siberia where his father Kim Il Sung was being groomed for power by the NKVD. In size, scope, reason for being, and manner of doing business, the North Korean camps are indistinguishable from their Soviet kin, with the exception that in the North Korean system they do not bother with even pro forma trials.

Unfortunately there is not as much widely known about the Kwan-li-co. Amnesty’s 2005 country report on North Korea does not go into the camp system, though it does highlight some of the other human rights abuses visited on North Korean citizens — denial of free expression, starvation, torture, extrajudicial executions, and trafficking in women...

An estimated 200,000 people are being held in the Kwan-li-co and related systems, in conditions of unspeakable brutality. Accounts of life (such as it is) in the camps remind one of Solzhenitsyn’s narratives, or Primo Levi’s, or other firsthand confirmation of the cruelty and viciousness of the total state in dealing with those it has rendered helpless. How many ways can a person be tortured? How many ways can someone be killed? Is no offense against totalitarian order too small to be overlooked? Are there no limits to the depravity of man? Read some of these accounts and compare. To the average North Korean prisoner, Guantanamo, with its wholesome food, hygienic sanitation, medical care, regular religious services, fresh clothes, forgiving climate, trained personnel, and periodic Red Cross visits would be an astonishing land of plenty. The same goes for the average North Korean citizen.

Captain's Quarter weighs in with more outlandish AI comments:

Here's the link to AI-USA's statement with this call for capturing US officials while traveling abroad:
If the US government continues to shirk its responsibility, Amnesty International calls on foreign governments to uphold their obligations under international law by investigating all senior US officials involved in the torture scandal. And if those investigations support prosecution, the governments should arrest any official who enters their territory and begin legal proceedings against them. The apparent high-level architects of torture should think twice before planning their next vacation to places like Acapulco or the French Riviera because they may find themselves under arrest as Augusto Pinochet famously did in London in 1998...

Amnesty International’s list of those who may be considered high-level torture architects includes Donald Rumsfeld, who approved a December 2002 memorandum that permitted such unlawful interrogation techniques as stress positions, prolonged isolation, stripping, and the use of dogs at Guantanamo Bay; William Haynes, the Defense Department General Counsel who wrote that memo, and Douglas Feith, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, who is cited in the memo as concurring with its recommendations.

Our list includes Major General Geoffrey Miller, Commander of the Joint Task Force Guantanamo, whose subordinates used some of the approved torture techniques and who was sent to Iraq where he recommended that prison guards "soften up" detainees for interrogations; former CIA Director George Tenet, whose agency kept so-called "ghost detainees" off registration logs and hidden during visits by the Red Cross and whose operatives reportedly used such techniques as water-boarding, feigning suffocation, stress positions, and incommunicado detention.

And it includes Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who called the Geneva Conventions "quaint" and "obsolete" in a January 2002 memo and who requested the memos that fueled the atrocities at Abu Ghraib; Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, former Commander of US Forces in Iraq, and Sanchez’ deputy, Major General Walter Wojdakowsi, who failed to ensure proper staff oversight of detention and interrogation operations at Abu Ghraib, according to the military’s Fay-Jones report, and Captain Carolyn Wood, who oversaw interrogation operations at Bagram Air Base and who permitted the use of dogs, stress positions and sensory deprivation.

But it doesn't include Robert Mugabe, Kim Jong-Il, Fidel Castro, Bashar Assad, etc etc etc.

Captain's Quarter continues in the same posting:

That's quite a stringent call coming from AI -- a demand that foreign governments ignore diplomatic immunity and seize traveling officials from the United States, in order to put them on trial in a kangaroo court. I wonder, did Schulz make the same demand about Fidel Castro, Kim Jong-Il, the Iranian mullahs, or any of the other dictators around the world that really do practice torture on their own populations, or worse. Apparently not; Amnesty only unleashes its venom on freely elected leaders, a rather cowardly act masquerading as telling truth to power.

These revelations absolutely destroy any credibility for AI as a nonpartisan, independent organization dedicated to human rights. It has sold itself out as yet another tiresome, radical Leftist screaming machine with double standards so ridiculous that their very scope amounts to self-satire.

Power Line points out what AG Gonzales really said and, therefore, how the AI comments about him are wrong:

In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions requiring that captured enemy be afforded such things as commissary privileges, scrip (i.e., advances of monthly pay), athletic uniforms, and scientific instruments.

Another section of the Captain's Quarter posting includes these words:

...It seems to me that this rhetoric is much more offensive than the "gulag" analogy, and it represents a Rubicon of sorts for Amnesty International and its supporters. I think those who fund AI and align themselves politically with Schulz and its other leaders should be pressed to answer whether they support Schulz' call for the kidnapping of American officials traveling abroad. It's a simple question and demands a straightforward answer. Those who refuse to disavow themselves of their association or support of Amnesty International on this basis will reveal themselves as radicals who will sacrifice American interests for momentary global approbation.

We elect our leaders, and we hold them accountable. Moreover, when we send our leaders abroad to interact with leaders of other countries, we expect those countries to extend normal diplomatic status, or to warn in advance when that status will not be extended. Violating that status by imprisoning our leaders and diplomats is an act of war against the United States. Those joining in Amnesty International's call for other nations to commit an act of war against us should be held politically accountable for their position.