05 June 2005

Amnesty International blew it

Just over a week ago, Amnesty International, the widely respected human rights organization, issued their AI Report 2005 on human rights abuses around the globe. This Amnesty International Report cited failures by national governments and international organizations in dealing with human rights violations and called for greater international accountability. In the report, Amnesty International admonished the United States, among other countries, for our detention policies in Guantanomo Bay, Cuba. AI Secretary General Irene Khan went on to declare the camps to be "the gulag of our times."

While conditions in Guantanomo are questionable, Amnesty International's report lost credibility by comparing our current situation in Cuba to that in the former Soviet Union. President George W. Bush decried the Gulag comment, stating "I'm aware of the Amnesty International report, and it's absurd. It's an absurd allegation." President Bush is right. The world needs reform at Guantanomo Bay, but now that will probably not occur. As a result of AI's irresponsible choice of words, the real issues surrounding prison camps in Guantanomo will likely remain ignored. Because of this mistake, AI's 2005 Report has failed.

The term Gulag is an abbreviation for Glavnoe Upravlenie ispravitel'no-trudovykh Lagerie, or the Main Directorate of Corrective Labor Camps. The Gulag was a network of 476 forced-labor prison camps in the former Soviet Union during most of the 20th century. The Gulag began under Vladimir Lenin and operated under many Russian leaders, most notoriously Joseph Stalin. The Gulag was run by the Soviet secret police, originally known as the Cheka and later known as the KGB. Approximately 20 million people were held within the Gulag, some for hiding "grain in cellars; owning too many cows; ... being Jewish; being Finnish;" etc., but most were jailed as political prisoners. It is estimated that approximately three million people perished in the Gulag.

Americans are taught little Russian history, so the lack of outrage following the gulag comment by Amnesty International is not surprising. But there should be outrage, because the comparison of the Gulag and the Guantanomo camps is ludicrous. (For an excellent discussion on this subject, read "Equivalency Test: Gulag v. Gitmo" in The New Republic by David Bosco.)

Imagine if the AI Report had compared the prison camps in Guantanomo to the Nazi concentration camps during World War II. The Holocaust resulted in the murder of over 6 million Jews, along with killings of homosexuals, gypsies, the physically or mentally disabled, Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses, Polish intellectuals, Soviet Prisoners of War, and others. If Amnesty International had compared American prison camps in Cuba to the Nazi concentration camps or even limited the comparison to one camp, such as Auschwitz, the outrage across this country would be deafening and rightfully so. The Gulag comment should have prompted the same anger.

Amnesty International is a great organization. Conservatives and liberals have equally embraced the organization's findings in the past in efforts to stop human rights violations. And recent news reports do in fact indicate that conditions at Guantanomo Bay are beneath those one would expect from our great nation. Amnesty International had the opportunity to make a difference, but instead they tried to make their report sexy by recklessly using an offensive phrase. Amnesty International blew it!

2 Comments:

Anonymous Mark said...

It is a shame how both sides treat everything like its black and white. The Republicans say that the report is offensive therefore the allegations regarding Guantonomo are false. And the Democrats want to discuss the allegations so they are forced to defend the reports comments. Why can't anyone just say that the comments were over the top but the allegations may be true? It's sad that no one uses common sense anymore.

5:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately the Dems aren't making any logical points. There are major problems at Guantanomo. The gulag statement gave the Republicans an opportunity to change the subject, and the Dems just let them. Sad and sorry!

12:37:00 PM  

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