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May 29, 2005 - The Amnesty International Report

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Amnesty International is now suggesting Bush and the crew could be tried for war crimes?  Really!  Well, everyone knows Amnesty International, like the UN, needs put in its place.  John Bolton will be confirmed in a few weeks.  Let him deal with it.

Thursday, May 26, 2005, Amnesty's U.S. director, William Schultz - "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."

They’re upset about Guantánamo and Bagram and Abu Ghraib and all that.

Yeah, yeah.  Alberto “Quaint” Gonzalez should not try to check in at the Carlton?  Get real.  No Bush Republican would be caught anywhere near the French Riviera.  That’s where Michael Moore won the big prize for his treasonous film, at Cannes – and they eat snails and frog legs and that odd fish stew there.  And they don’t have NASCAR there.  And Henry Kissinger should not visit Paris again as many consider him a fellow that should stand in the docket for war crimes.  Christopher Hitchens in 2001 argued that.  Like Henry cares?

Add to that the Constitution Project, a Washington advocacy group based at Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute, is calling for a new big congressional commission, with hearings and everything, specifically on prisoner abuse.  And who is urging that?  Former Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta - David Keene, head of the American Conservative Union - former FBI director William Sessions!  They’re saying the military cannot investigate itself, nor can the executive branch.  No kidding.

That’ll go nowhere, although having a prominent conservative and the former head of the FBI saying something is wrong here is unusual.

Newsday covered the basic story regarding Amnesty International here


Amnesty International Thursday called the U.S. military's anti-terror prison at Guantanamo Bay the "gulag of our times" and warned that American leaders may face international prosecution for mistreating prisoners.

"When the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights, it grants a license to others to commit abuse with impunity and audacity," said Amnesty Secretary General Irene Khan at a London news conference releasing the group's annual report on global human rights, a blistering, 308-page survey.

The influential human-rights monitoring group has criticized U.S. detention practices before. But Tuesday marked its first call to close Guantánamo, and the group used unusually sharp language in demanding an independent investigation of torture and abuse of prisoners there and at detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan. …


I don’t think we’re about to close Guantánamo – as a matter of fact we're planning to build an execution chamber there - as that might be useful.  The Associated Press quotes General Geoffrey Miller saying, "We're getting ready so we won't be starting from scratch."  Remember him?  The former commander of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Janis Karpinski, accused him of introducing the methods that got us in trouble there from Guantánamo.  Charming guy.

Anyway, Newsday reports Amnesty International's US director, William Schultz, saying that if US officials don't act, other countries will.  And you won’t see George and Laura at next year’s Cannes Film Festival?

It seems we are a bit unpopular.

Our defense against all this?  The New York Times leads with this: Defending its human rights record as "leading the way," the White House dismissed the accusations as ridiculous and unfounded.

What else were we going to say?

What Amnesty International wants?


In Washington, William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, urged President Bush to press for a full investigation of what he called the "atrocious human rights violations at Abu Ghraib and other detention centers."

"When the U.S. government calls upon foreign leaders to bring to justice those who commit or authorize human rights violations in their own countries, why should those foreign leaders listen?"

Dr. Schulz said. "And if the U.S. government does not abide by the same standards of justice, what shred of moral authority will we retain to pressure other governments to diminish abuses?

"It's far past time for President Bush to prove that he is not covering up the misdeeds of senior officials and political cronies who designed and authorized these nefarious interrogation policies," he said. "So Congress must appoint a truly impartial and independent commission to investigate the masterminds of the atrocious human rights violations at Abu Ghraib and other detention centers, and President Bush should use the power of his office to press Congress to do so."


Fat chance.  They claim we are condoning "atrocious" human rights violations, thereby "diminishing our moral authority" and setting a global example "encouraging abuse by other nations."  And that our "rendition" of prisoners to countries known to practice torture is how the United States "thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights."

So we’re supposed to hold open hearings?

What they got –


In response, Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, said: "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. We have liberated 50 million people in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have worked to advance freedom and democracy in the world so that people are governed under a rule of law, that there are protections in place for minority rights, that women's rights are advanced so that women can fully participate in societies where now they cannot."

"We've also - are leading the way when it comes to spreading compassion," Mr. McClellan said. "The United States leads the way when it comes to providing resources to combat the scourge of AIDS."


Is Scott changing the topic, or just putting things in a wider perspective?  Torture and abuse, beating prisoners to death, knowing many of them are guilty of very little and some innocent, and the practice of holding 'ghost detainees' (people in unacknowledged incommunicado detention) – all that is outweighed by other good stuff we do in other areas?

No.  He couldn’t mean that.

If you want us to assure that women get the right to vote in Afghanistan and some funds go to AIDS victims in sub-Saharan Africa, then this other stuff must be excused?

That’s only what he said, not probably not what he meant.

The Times also reports that this Schulz of Amnesty International USA acknowledged his organization had used "strong language" because it felt that "the United States has betrayed a very fundamental principle that this country stands for."

Maybe he doesn’t understand what we now stand for.

Out there in the world of commentary you get things like this from the defenders of Bush and his crew –


It's odd, isn't it, how moral relativism works. A country like say, North Korea or Iran takes dissenters and throws them into the gulag and that's government policy. In the US when someone mistreats a prisoner there is an investigation and the individual wrong-doers face criminal sanctions... that's our government policy. And yet, somehow the two are equal. As bad as moral relativism is, though, it's the fact that those who indulge themselves in this sort of thinking aren't even aware there's a problem.


Ah, as the new Pope says, the problem is moral relativism – as he equates the Western liberal tradition, that is, the Enlightenment, with Nazism, and denigrates it as "moral relativism."  (See this for background.)  The idea is we may torture folks, but we investigate and punish the low level folks who carry it out, so it’s okay.

Over at Obsidian Wings you find this response


All the shouting about "how dare they" criticize us strikes me as willfully blind to the way that, by proclaiming our moral superiority, we are asking to be held to a higher standard. It seems to me that Amnesty's point was that as the world's remaining superpower, the US bears a bigger responsibility than North Korea or Iran to set an example. So any critique that doesn't account for how the President declared himself qualified to preach to the rest of the world about such matters in his last Inaugural address leaves a bit of a gap in how one is meant to interpret responsibility and credibility. I mean, it's human nature for problems to arise, but when so many problems are arising (G-bay, Bagram, Abu Ghraib, extradition, false arrests in the US, etc.) AND the president is still declaring we'll lead the way toward the end of tyranny, then I think Amnesty International and others have a right to suggest, because we're holding ourselves up as an example of a higher standard, that we're failing in equal measure to those holding themselves to a lower standard.


You mean you have to practice what you preach?  No, that’s for losers.


Well, no matter what Amnesty International calls for, I don’t think we’re about to close Guantánamo.  Our president is a stubborn man – or is that steadfast?  (Yes, you can conjugate adjectives – as in "I am firm and resolute, you are stubborn, but he is bullheaded" – one man’s synonym is another’s antonym.)

But late in the week we find just such a call in the New York Times.

Just Shut It Down
Thomas L. Freidman, May 27 2005

Freidman is writing from London, deep in the UK, and that, some would claim, means he’s been seduced by the dark side, those who hate America (and drink warm beer). In any event, he addresses the president directly –


Shut it down. Just shut it down.

I am talking about the war-on-terrorism P.O.W. camp at Guantánamo Bay. Just shut it down and then plow it under. It has become worse than an embarrassment. I am convinced that more Americans are dying and will die if we keep the Gitmo prison open than if we shut it down. So, please, Mr. President, just shut it down.

If you want to appreciate how corrosive Guantánamo has become for America's standing abroad, don't read the Arab press. Don't read the Pakistani press. Don't read the Afghan press. Hop over here to London or go online and just read the British press! See what our closest allies are saying about Gitmo. And when you get done with that, read the Australian press and the Canadian press and the German press.


And of course if you click on the link you can read what he finds there.  As he puts it - just another day of the world talking about Guantánamo Bay.

For someone who supported the war, even if reluctantly at times, because it would show our seriousness, or something like that, and change things for the better, shutting the this place down would be part of winning the war.


Why care? It's not because I am queasy about the war on terrorism. It is because I want to win the war on terrorism. And it is now obvious from reports in my own paper and others that the abuse at Guantánamo and within the whole U.S. military prison system dealing with terrorism is out of control. Tell me, how is it that over 100 detainees have died in U.S. custody so far? Heart attacks? This is not just deeply immoral, it is strategically dangerous.


Yeah, don’t argue morals with these guys.  What’s the point?  Argue tactics.

The idea is the whole business has a toxic effect on us - "inflaming sentiments against the U.S. all over the world and providing recruitment energy on the Internet for those who would do us ill."

And one element in his array of evidence that this is so is a comment made to him by one Husain Haqqani, a Pakistani scholar now teaching at Boston University - "When people like myself say American values must be emulated and America is a bastion of freedom, we get Guantánamo Bay thrown in our faces. When we talk about the America of Jefferson and Hamilton, people back home say to us: 'That is not the America we are dealing with. We are dealing with the America of imprisonment without trial.' "

They’re not the same?

The best line is in his conclusion –


Guantánamo Bay is becoming the anti-Statue of Liberty. If we have a case to be made against any of the 500 or so inmates still in Guantánamo, then it is high time we put them on trial, convict as many possible (which will not be easy because of bungled interrogations) and then simply let the rest go home or to a third country. Sure, a few may come back to haunt us. But at least they won't be able to take advantage of Guantánamo as an engine of recruitment to enlist thousands more. I would rather have a few more bad guys roaming the world than a whole new generation.

"This is not about being for or against the war," said Michael Posner, the executive director of Human Rights First, which is closely following this issue. "It is about doing it right. If we are going to transform the Middle East, we have to be law-abiding and uphold the values we want them to embrace - otherwise it is not going to work."


Yeah, telling them we’re special – that we’re extraordinary and unique victims like no other people on earth and thus are exempt from playing by the rules we want them to play by – well, that’s just not convincing anyone.  It really is a hard sell.

Every American may believe that fully and deeply – the government and the press has been telling is that for more than three years, hammering it in – but step outside the borders and no matter how loudly you declare "I’m SPECIAL! I’m UNIQUE! I’m EXTRAORDINARY! I’m an AMERICAN! – a new kind of victim of the cruel world that deserves latitude in the matters!" you will be seen as a petulant child, and a dangerous one.  No, you are not special.  You are expected to be responsible, and as adult as you can be, and do what is right, as best you can.

Time to grow up.



You will find an interesting comment on the Friedman item in the Times from Hunter over at the Daily Kos


Yes indeed, maybe running a prison camp explicitly exempted from all inconvenient aspects of both U.S. and international law, then kidnapping "suspects" from around the globe to be either shipped there or dumped into prisons under the flags of the worst torturers and despots in the world, then subjecting them to conditions in which they die by the dozens, then maybe dumping a few of the ones who turn out to be innocent off at the borders of their own country with nothing more than the clothes they're wearing and whatever permanent or nonpermanent physical damage was done to them during their stay at Camp President Bush Is A Big Man -- just maybe that might have negative consequences for the United States among the people we are trying to convince of our Godly compassion and world-inspiring democracy.

Congratu-freakin-lations. You now know what anyone with an I.Q. above week-old pizza was raising their voice about from the moment the camp opened. You now know why some of us have been marking the connections between military figures who shuffled between Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, and Afghanistan in apparent order to make damn sure we were beating, maiming, and killing as many prisoners as possible in all three locations. You now know why the notion of making Alberto Gonzales (the man responsible for tweaking the rules to allow the Bush administration to laughably pretend that any of this was anything resembling something other than a war crime) freakin' Attorney General was treated by much of the reality-based community as something between a sick joke and the world's most asinine reality show.

And now -- just now -- we still have pillars of international expertise figuring out that maybe, maybe this fine-tuned, no-trial, no-Geneva, torture-who-you-want policy wasn't so bright an idea after all.

Friedman notes that over 100 detainees have died at Guantánamo, which is "deeply immoral". Tell me, at what point did it become deeply immoral? When the first fifty died, was it moral then? What about eighty, how was that? I'm apparently living in a world stuffed to bursting with experts on international diplomacy, so give me the damn number. The camp currently holds five hundred people; what percentage of them can die in custody in a period of only a few years before the odometer turns over from freedom fries -burp-! to deeply immoral?


Well, Freidman is late to the party.  And his reasoning, is, shall we say, more pragmatic than centered on right and wrong.

And Hunter agrees with everyone else, even if more forcefully –


We're not going to shut Guantánamo down. We're not going to even start making any serious attempt to separate guilty from innocent, except in explicit instances where Britain or Australia figure out we've got one of their citizens and bluster ever so diplomatically that maybe we ought to give them back. We're not going to attempt to determine which of the "enemy combatants" were Taliban fighters, which were al Qaeda members, or which were simply people driving in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And we're not going to do it because the President of the United States himself doesn't give a rat's ass, and isn't likely to at any point in the future. He wears "justice" like a hat, he wears "religion" like a sticky and well-snotted-up hankie, and he spends his days milking his all-important war in Iraq for every drop of political capital like the horse in his wife's jokes. A dead man, whether guilty or innocent, means nothing to him unless some jackass took an unflattering picture of it.


As for Freidman –


So congratulations. Yet another of the voices in this world that helped make the terms pro-America and yay-for-torture interchangeable has figured out that maybe there's a downside to being seen elsewhere in the world as an amoral nation that deems itself outside the rule of law.

Actually, you flaming jackasses, it was pretty f---ing obvious from the start. That it wasn't obvious to you, while the rest of us were raising our voices about it, is the entire current problem.


That was perhaps a tad blunt – but at least Freidman came around, three years too late and for the wrong reasons.  But he came around.


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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