Amnesty International’s widely publicized statement that Guantanamo Bay is “the gulag of our times” did exactly what I suspect it was intended to do: it gave liberals everywhere a powerful anti-Bush sound byte, backed by the authority of a respected international organization, that they will be able to repeat breathlessly for months and years to come. And because ideologues (on both sides) are generally impervious to inconvenient contradictory facts, that repetition will not be affected at all by the news that the director of Amnesty USA says that the group doesn’t “know for sure” whether its inflammatory allegations are actually, you know, true.
Executive Director William Schultz admitted on Fox News Sunday, “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.” Now, that’s a very good point, but it hardly justifies comparing Gitmo to brutal Soviet prisons without adequate information to back that statement up.
Moreover, even if Amnesty’s worst (unproven) fears about Gitmo are true, the comparison remains inappropriate, as Schultz himself basically admits:
CHRIS WALLACE: Mr. Schulz, the Soviet gulag was a system of slave labor camps that went on for more than 30 years. More than 1.6 million deaths were documented. Whatever has happened at Guantanamo, do you stand by the comparison to the Soviet gulag?
SCHULZ: Well, Chris, clearly this is not an exact or a literal analogy. And the secretary general has acknowledged that. There’s no question. But what 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. But there are some similarities.
Schultz later says he does not believe the analogy is “irresponsible,” but his own words undercut that claim. “Some similarities” do not a valid analogy make. If you look hard enough, I’m sure you can find “some similarities” between Bush and Hitler… and also “some similarities” between Bush and Jesus. But would it be appropriate to say that Bush is either “the Hitler of our times” or “the Jesus of our times”? I think not.
As I said, I agree with Schultz that “the United States ought to allow independent human rights organizations to investigate” its military prisons. But any organization that would make an inflammatory, irresponsible, and admittedly unfounded comparison between the prisons it wants to investigate and notorious human-rights abuses of ages past certainly puts at risk its status as an “independent” organization. I hate to quote Donald Rumsfeld, but he put it quite well: “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.”
Speaking of Rummy, Schultz also says “it would be fascinating to find out” whether the defense secretary really is a “high-level architect of torture,” as Schultz has asserted in the past. “I have no idea,” Schulz said yesterday. This from a man who once compared Rumsfeld to Pinochet.
InstaPundit puts it best:
I wonder what would happen if Donald Rumsfeld should charge Amnesty with being in the pay of Al Qaeda, and then later say that “It would be fascinating to find out. I have no idea.”
Somehow, I don’t think the same people who are still quoting Amnesty’s “gulag” statement and its criticisms of Rumsfeld would take kindly to conservatives continuing to quote such an outrageous statement after its source backtracked. But the same rules that apply to American (especially Republican) politicians don’t seem to apply to international do-gooders like Amnesty, for some reason.
Mind you, I’m not defending the Bush Administration or its policies and procedures at Gitmo. There are some very legitimate questions to be asked about the facility, and I think that, at the very least, there is great deal of room for improvement in the way the U.S. handles these things.
But Amnesty is embarrassing itself, and it is abdundantly clear that it has no credibility whatsoever on this particular issue. Any organization that would compare a U.S. detention facility to a brutal Soviet prison without adequate evidence to back up that claim should NOT be quoted as an “authority” by anyone with a shred of intellectual honesty.
Spread the word, fellow Bush/Gitmo skeptics: Find a better source to quote. As the Washington Post editorial board points out, Amnesty’s blatant pandering to the anti-Bush Left is actually harmful to the anti-Bush cause, because it allows the administration to discredit legitimate criticism as well:
Like Amnesty, we, too, have written extensively about U.S. prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay, in Afghanistan and in Iraq. We have done so not only because the phenomenon is disturbing in its own right but also because it gives undemocratic regimes around the world an excuse to justify their own use of torture and indefinite detention and because it damages the U.S. government’s ability to promote human rights.
But we draw the line at the use of the word “gulag” or at the implication that the United States has somehow become the modern equivalent of Stalin’s Soviet Union. …
Worrying about the use of a word may seem like mere semantics, but it is not. Turning a report on prisoner detention into another excuse for Bush-bashing or America-bashing undermines Amnesty’s legitimate criticisms of U.S. policies and weakens the force of its investigations of prison systems in closed societies. It also gives the administration another excuse to dismiss valid objections to its policies as “hysterical.”