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June 02, 2005

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL seems to have flushed its credibility with the comparison of Guantanamo Bay to a Gulag, which it continues to repeat. By doing so, of course, it only helps the Bush Administration.

Dr. Rusty Shackleford has a lengthy essay with photos, exploring the difference between Guantanamo and the Gulags.

Pamela Hess writes:

Roughly 18 million prisoners -- "enemies of the people" or common criminals -- were sentenced to forced labor in camps across the Soviet Union, beginning in 1919. The gulags -- a Russian acronym for the government agency that oversaw the network of camps -- went into full swing under Josef Stalin in 1934 and were not publicly acknowledged until after his death. They were all shut under Mikhail Gorbachev. Millions of people died from starvation, cold, exhaustion, disease and physical abuse, according to Anne Applebaum's authoritative 2003 book, "Gulag: a History."

There is no evidence the 600 or so U.S. prisoners at Guantanamo are being starved; nor are they being forced into slave labor. However questionable the evidence may be against some of the prisoners -- more than 100 have been released free and clear after some months in the camp -- they are being imprisoned not for their political beliefs but for their alleged involvement in terrorism and attacks on U.S. forces.

That so many have been released is itself rather non-Gulag-like, of course. John Podhoretz observes:

Financial purpose of Gulag: Providing totalitarian economy with millions of slave laborers.

Financial purpose of Gitmo: None.

Seizure of Gulag prisoners: From apartments, homes, street corners inside the Soviet Union.

Seizure of Gitmo prisoners: From battlefield sites in Afghanistan in the midst of war.

Even the most damaging charge Amnesty International levels against the United States and its conduct at Gitmo, that our government has been guilty of ``entrenching the practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law,'' bears no relation to the way things worked when it came to the Gulag. Soviet prisoners were charged, tried and convicted in courts of law according to the Soviet legal code.

Christopher Orlet notes:

Gulag prisoners were systemically starved, beaten, and forced to labor in sub-zero weather. The lucky ones were shot immediately. In contrast, at Guantanamo Bay, 1,300 Korans in 13 different languages were handed out to prisoners. Prisoners are served "proper Muslim-approved food." . . .

Nevertheless Amnesty International's "gulag" reference came as a bit of a surprise. The left has been notoriously silent about the gulags. It is normally a chapter in the history of socialism they prefer to leave out. On the other hand, the fact that Amnesty International used the term shows how little respect the left has for the tens of millions that suffered the hell of the gulag. You would never hear Amnesty International call Guantanamo Bay the "Auschwitz of our Time." Auschwitz is sacred to the memory of the Jews and Poles who died there. The gulag? That's not sacred. Just a failed experiment. . . .

By making such asinine comparisons, Amnesty International risks losing whatever credibility it has left. This is unfortunate because the organization normally does important work. However, Amnesty is caught in a Catch-22 situation. It can risk losing its credibility by throwing a bone to its wealthy liberal donors, or risk losing its funding. Amnesty has obviously chosen to risk its credibility.


Like a lot of people, Amnesty has lost perspective here. Instead of making constructive criticisms that might address actual problem areas, it has chosen posturing and over-the-top hysteria that ensure that it can be written off as lacking perspective and credibility. As the editors of the Washington Post noted last week:

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."

Indeed. Amnesty once realized that balance, fairness and -- most importantly -- self-discipline were vital to its mission. It seems, however, to have joined the rather lengthy list of those suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome. Bush's ability to induce that state in his critics, and thereby cause them to blow their own credibility, is astonishing, and surely one of his greatest strengths.

UPDATE: Ed Driscoll emails that Steven Den Beste spotted Amnesty International jumping the shark two years ago, and drew unfavorable comparisons with the ACLU. "I use the ACLU's Skokie decision because Amnesty International now faces exactly the same decision. But Amnesty International is selling out. . . . Unlike the ACLU, AI is demonstrating that when the cards are down, its soul is for sale."

ANOTHER UPDATE: Julian Ku: "Amnesty is veering dangerously close to Noam Chomsky/Ramsey Clark-land here. They are not quite there yet, but give them another year, and the once-proud Amnesty International will be simply dismissed as another hotbed of fervent leftish-anti-Americanism which is no more credible on these matters than the U.S. government itself."

Actually, I think "no more credible" is putting it rather kindly.

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