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Free Liberal: Coordinating towards higher values

Free Liberal

Coordinating towards higher values

Amnesty International vs. The American Gulag

by Jason Miller

On 6/3/05, the Bush administration lacked the courage to face its accuser directly. Jim Lehrer of Newshour on PBS moderated a discussion between Amnesty International and the Bush administration. The topic was Amnesty's recent allegations concerning prisoner abuse in the American version of Stalin's Gulag Archipelago. Amnesty sent William Schulz, their executive director in the United States. Lehrer invited the Pentagon to send a representative. Instead, they sent their proxy, Neil Livingston, CEO of Global Options, a security firm with expertise on the subject of terrorism. Competing emotions swelled within me as I watched Schulz and Livingston speak. Elation and anger wrestled violently as they struggled to become my predominant emotion.

With clinical detachment, Livingston gave a typical Neocon justification for the "Gulag of our Times" in Guantanamo Bay and other locations. Taking umbrage to Amnesty's gall in leveling charges of human rights abuses against the morally superior United States; he coolly stated that Guantanamo was not even remotely similar to the Gulags under Stalin. Holding the Neocon line, he denied that there was a problem with the US system of detention in the "war on terror". He stated that the men confined in Cuba were dangerous terrorists, and therefore were not entitled to rights afforded under the Geneva Convention. He admitted that there were some abuses, but minimized them, stating that they were rare and minor. Livingston further justified the American Gulag with the fact that we are at "war" and cannot risk freeing these prisoners until the "war" is over.

Schulz cast a very different light on the situation. He reminded viewers that the US military has committed 27 homicides throughout its network of prisons, including Guantanamo. Schulz exposed the fact that prisoners in the US Gulag system are not confirmed terrorists because they have had no access to an objective tribunal to rule on their culpability. He also spoke of the "ghost detainees" who have disappeared, the US practice of transferring prisoners to nations which condone torture, and the fact that most of the prisoners in the "war on terror" have been held without formal charges for over two years.

Pointing out that the US is in direct violation of the Geneva Convention, he defended Amnesty's report condemning US human rights abuses. He also addressed Irene Kahn's characterization of Guantanamo as the "Gulag of our Times". Explaining that while it was not a direct analogy, Shulz affirmed that there are many similarities between Stalin's Gulag Archipelago, and the terrorist prison network of the US. As Schulz declared, Irene Khan, the London-based director of Amnesty International, is a native of Bangladesh. Khan and Amnesty represent the viewpoints of the international community, and their condemnation of the war crimes of the US government is not a politically-motivated attack. Schulz conveyed that Amnesty applies the "gold standard" of respect for human rights to each nation which it investigates. According to Schulz, the vehement denials of wrongdoing by Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld closely resembled those of countries such as Iran and North Korea, members of Bush's so-called "Axis of Evil".

What gives Amnesty International the credentials to challenge almighty America?

Amnesty International came to be in 1961 as a result of a year long media campaign initiated by Peter Benenson, a British attorney. He sparked a year long publicity campaign by The Observer, a British newspaper. The effort influenced people to launch protests against the detention of prisoners of conscience. From these humble beginnings, Amnesty has grown to a world-wide organization with more than a million members. Acting on bedrock principles of independence and impartiality, the group now champions the rights of prisoners of social conscience, people facing torture and the death penalty, and individuals who have "disappeared" for political reasons. Amnesty won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 and in 1978 received a United Nations Human Rights Award. Over the years, they have achieved a sterling reputation as an activist organization shining the light of humanity on the ugly violations of individual human rights throughout the world.

In Irene Kahn's own words:

“Human rights violations are not committed against the ‘other side’ but against a mother, a sister, a brother, a son,”

“Our challenge is to [stand] in solidarity with the victims, to know their names, their faces, their identities, their stories.”

“No cause can justify the abuse of human rights.”

Listen to them tap dance....and "flip flop"

Meanwhile, the Bush administration has responded to Amnesty’s allegations with vehement and terse denials. In light of Amnesty's credibility and the body of evidence against them, their words ring quite hollow.

Dick Cheney:

"For Amnesty International to suggest that somehow the United States is a violator of human rights, I frankly just don’t take them seriously."

Scott MClellan, the White House Press Secretary and spin-master:

"I think the allegations are ridiculous and unsupported by the facts. The United States is leading the way when it comes to protecting human rights and promoting human dignity."

George W. Bush:

"When there's accusations made about certain actions by our people, they're fully investigated in a transparent way. It's just an absurd allegation."

"It seemed like [Amnesty] based some of their decisions on the word and allegations by people who were held in detention, people who hate America, people who had been trained in some instances to disassemble - that means not tell the truth,"

"And so it was an absurd report. It just is."

Holding true to form, when the White House needed Amnesty to promote the war in Iraq in 2003, they offered a much different opinion on Amnesty and their findings concerning human rights abuses.

Before Amnesty leveled their charges against the US administration, Donald Rumsfeld had this to say:

"We know that it’s a repressive regime…Anyone who has read Amnesty International or any of the human rights organizations about how the regime of Saddam Hussein treats his people…"

"…It seems to me a careful reading of Amnesty International or the record of Saddam Hussein, having used chemical weapons on his own people as well as his neighbors, and the viciousness of that regime, which is well known and documented by human rights organizations, ought not to be surprised."

The simple fact is that Amnesty International has an established reputation as an independent watchdog of human rights around the world. They have not exhibited a pattern of targeting specific countries to further a political agenda. Rumsfeld's statements provide evidence that the Bush administration recognized Amnesty's authority on the matter of human rights abuse when it suited their purposes. Now that Amnesty has trained their cross-hairs on them, they are lashing out like cornered animals. America's leaders deride or attempt to discredit virtually every organization or individual that has the audacity to challenge them. Smells like tyranny to me.

In 1974 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (a man who knew a bit about tyranny, Stalin and the Gulag Archipelago) might as well have been talking about the Bush administration when he said:

"Violence can only be concealed by a lie, and the lie can only be maintained by violence. Any man who has once proclaimed violence as his method is inevitably forced to take the lie as his principle."

Fear lies beneath their ire

Bush and his cohorts are sweating. Amnesty has them in an angry, defensive mode because they are afraid. Why do they fear? They know the allegations are true. They also recognize that even the leaders of the mighty United States are subject to international law. The international court of public opinion has already found them guilty, which does not bode well for the Neocons. Gandhi’s perpetuation of a large civil disobedience movement in colonial India swayed world opinion to the degree that the British finally relented and left India a sovereign nation. The Bush regime comprehends that the movement against their corrupt abuses of power is gaining momentum both domestically and abroad, and they are feeling the heat.

As Joseph Kay and Barry Grey asserted:

"The statements made by Amnesty International are, in fact, only mild expressions of the deep-seated feelings of hundreds of millions of people around the world, including many millions within the United States. The position taken by the US media in response to Amnesty’s charges will only further discredit an institution that already stands condemned in the eyes of the world. The US media is waist deep in blood, filth and lies. It has been instrumental in promoting and defending the policies of the most reactionary government in American history and is irreversibly implicated in its crimes."

Amnesty leveled specific and credible charges against the administration in this open letter to George Bush on 5/7/04. They went even further with recent statements by William Schulz:

''If the U.S. government continues to shirk its responsibility, Amnesty International calls on foreign governments to uphold their obligations under international law by investigating all senior U.S. officials involved in the torture scandal,"

"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.”

Between Amnesty International exerting international pressure, the ACLU applying domestic legal pressure, and Representative John Conyers pushing for Congressional action based on the Downing Street Memo, the Bush regime has its hands full. Their fear is masked by anger as they continue to lash out at their detractors, but they are beginning to look and sound flustered.

The Cost of American Conquest

While Amnesty commented that the Gulag analogy is not direct, there are distinct parallels between Stalin's infamous "Gulag Archipelago" and the American Gulags. The American system of confinement for detainees in the seemingly boundless and endless "war on terror" consists of an "archipelago" of at least 24 keeps, some of which are clandestine. According to Human Rights First, at least 108 prisoners have died in US Gulags, including 63 outside of Abu Gharib. They also validate through a CIA source that at least 100 "ghost detainees" exist, meaning the administration keeps them from the "prying eyes" of the monitors of the International Red Cross. The US now detains 11,000 prisoners in the American Gulag and, until recent rulings by the American judiciary, has given them no opportunity to prove their innocence. Torture, disappearances, murder, secrecy, and paucity of justice..... Sounds like a track record that would fill Joseph Stalin with pride!

Bush and his fellow Neocons lack the spiritual vision to realize that they are grossly abusing the awesome power they wield. Consumed by self-absorption and a compulsion to continue the morally repugnant policy of Manifest Destiny, they fail to realize that America's ways are not superior to the ways of the rest of the world. Sadly, America’s rulers believe they are justified in using invasion, occupation and torture to impose "democracy, capitalism and Christianity" on other nations, just as their predecessors did with Native Americans. Amnesty International has given them a painful reminder of their immoral, illegal acts, and of the limitations of their power. They also reminded the Neocons that the world does not share their zeal for American "democracy". As evidenced by its response, America’s elite ruling class is most displeased.

Jason S. Miller is a 38 year old free-lance activist writer with a degree in liberal arts. He is a husband and a father to three boys, and he earns his living as an account representative at a finance company. His affiliations include the ACLU and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Jason welcome responses at

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