Amnesty International's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Decade

Pioneering blogger Steven Den Beste on Amnesty International and Iraq, back in 2003:

It may well be that AI has, in the past, tried to bring attention to the abuses of the Baathist regime. But all this happened before the political question of an American invasion of Iraq became important.

The principled thing for AI to do now would be to issue an honest report about the situation. It would say that America may have committed a small number of war crimes but was clearly making a very serious attempt to avoid harming civilians or to break the laws of war, while the Iraqi regime was totally ignoring the Geneva Convention and was actively committing immense atrocities. The report would conclude with a blanket condemnation of Saddam and the rest of the Iraqi regime.

And that would alienate a large percentage of AI’s contributing membership, because many members would view this not as AI telling the truth, but as AI siding with America, “the true terrorist nation”, the biggest rogue nation on earth, the rapacious over-consumer of resources, and so on ad nauseam. Not to mention being seen as siding with George Bush, and you can fill in your own list of epithets about him.

It’s not going too far to say that many of Amnesty International’s members have approximately as strongly negative of feelings now about America and George Bush as the ACLU’s members had about the Nazis when the ACLU defended them in Skokie.

The ACLU made the principled decision and weathered the downturn in contributions. When condemnation of Iraq didn’t make AI look as if it was aligning with America, Amnesty International was willing to try to shine a spotlight on the abuses there. But now AI has suddenly gone silent. The abuses against the citizens of Iraq have not stopped; indeed they’ve gotten worse. In addition to ongoing violent repression of Iraq’s civilian population, various Iraqi military and para-military units have been directly violating the Geneva Convention by, for instance, abusing the white flag of truce, and by using protected humanitarian facilities to hold military equipment, and by using “human shields” in combat, and by directly firing at refugees, and in numerous other ways.

And what we’re seeing is that AI seems unwilling to make more than oblique mention of these things, while at the same time explicitly condemning the US for what are at best minor transgressions by comparison. Why is it more important to strongly focus attention on “censorship” while ignoring mass slaughter of refugees?

It’s because a large percentage of AI’s membership hates America and would cease making contributions if AI actually took a principled stand and told the truth. So Amnesty International, and other groups like it, are facing the same decision that the ACLU did in Skokie. But unlike the ACLU, they’re demonstrating moral cowardice, and letting mercenary issues overrule principle.

Since telling the truth would cost them, they aren’t doing so. Instead, they’re pandering. Since staying true to their stated principles would cost them, they’ve discarded their principles.


The London Times, February 7th, 2010: “Amnesty International is ‘damaged’ by Taliban link.”


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