Monday, June 06, 2005

MY FIRST REACTION when I saw this Chicago Sun-Times headline linked on Memorandum was to yell out loud, "Oh NO! Is there no one who won't back away from criticism of Bush's policies if the White House bullies them enough? Does even Amnesty International lack the guts to stand up to these fascists?"

But then when I started reading the article, I began to wonder: Did AI really disavow its assessment of Guantanamo, or is this just one newspaper's spin? I did some quick looking around, and I did not find anything in the other major news sources about Amnesty at all. I looked at the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times,, and None of them had a word about Amnesty backing off its gulag statement.

When I looked at the Sun-Times article itself, all the "backing off" amounts to is William Schulz saying the word "gulag" is not an "exact or literal analogy" to the Soviet gulag. Which neither Schulz nor Irene Khan ever said it was. It was the U.S. corporate media and the White House that jumped all over the word and threw a massive hissy fit, screaming that Amnesty was comparing the United States to the Soviet Union.

Any rational person would already know that the word "gulag" has a metaphorical meaning much larger than just the specific gulag that existed in the Soviet Union. A gulag is any vast network of prison camps and detention centers, largely run in secret, with no outside oversight, in which unknown numbers of detainees exist without any legal rights, often without anyone on the outside knowing where they are, and within which there are no guarantees of even basic human rights. Guantanamo by itself may not be a gulag, but the Bush administration's detention and interrogation infrastructure for captives in the war on terror is much larger than just Guantanamo. There are literally dozens of interrogation centers, prisons, and detention camps all over the globe, many of which are completely unknown to anyone not directly involved with them. The C.I.A.'s renditions program, which should more accurately be called the C.I.A.'s official detainee disappearing program, is also properly considered a part of the U.S. gulag.

So forget it, folks. Amnesty did not disavow anything, and it did not back away from its stated concerns with the serious infractions of human and legal rights committed by a country that trumpets itself as spreading freedom all over the world. The 2005 International Human Rights Report is still prominently displayed on their website. The description of the report still includes information for journalists about the U.S. reaction to the report, with the link reading, "USA: betraying human rights." And when you click on the link, you still see these words:

"We expect all our friends, as well as those who aren't our friends, to honor human rights and protect minority rights." -- President George W. Bush, The Rose Garden, 31 May.

If this is the US authorities’ genuine expectation, then it is shared by Amnesty International. However, AI’s expectation is that the US applies this rule to itself, not just to others.

Bottom line: The Bush administration should put its efforts into taking Amnesty's concerns seriously, and should make sure that U.S. policies with regard to the treatment of detainees in the war on terror reflect the values Bush says we stand for. If he did that, he would not have to worry about Guantanamo being called a gulag.

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