Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Amnesty fights back

As many have noticed, Amnesty International recently went over the top in likening the prison at Guantanamo to the Soviet Gulag. Now Roger Simon asks a question:

So why did Amnesty make such an insane (word choice deliberate) accusation? That is what is perplexing me. Why are some people, in this case an important human rights organization, incapable of rational discourse? The answers are depressing, I think, and lie at the intersection of psychoanalysis and greed. What America has tried to do in Afghanistan and Iraq provokes rage in many people because they feel their own personas threatened. At the same time, organizations like Amnesty believe their fund-raising goals are best achieved through making outrageous statements - a dangerous combination.

I certainly agree with Roger's conclusions that rage and fund-raising are part of what's going on here. But I also think that this type of statement arises out of the idea of relativistic truth. Words have become stripped of their meaning, because "truth" is, in the eyes of so many, a word that is always in scare quotes (whether the quotes are actually put in there or not), because it is always seen as suspect and arbitrary. Therefore a word such as "gulag" is used for its emotional import, to mean, in some very general and amorphous way "a prison environment where people are sent by a government, for political reasons rather than for something like theft, and where bad things happen to them." To know (and care) what the actual Gulag was, how many people it affected, who they were, and why it has no relevance whatsoever to Gitmo, would be to learn something about history and facts--and truth.

It is no accident, no accident at all, that the metaphors used by Bush's critics in Old Europe or on the left are either Nazi or Communist comparisons. This has another function, which is to say: "see, you think you are better than we are, but really, you are the same or worse." If parts of Old Europe might feel a bit guilty about the Nazis or the Holocaust, well then, what better revenge than to say Bush is like Hitler? And if leftists might feel a tad remorseful about the excesses of Communism such as the Gulag, what better way to expunge their feelings than to say Bush is running his own Gulag?


At 1:50 PM, June 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Way back in the 1970s, I once heard Joan Baez say that the Nazis had actually won the Second World War, after all. You know -- the U.S. government was run by people no different, in effect, than the Nazis. This sentiment/tactic has been around for a long, long time.

At 2:13 PM, June 01, 2005, Blogger Minh-Duc said...

I am actually serious offended by the comment, and I have every right to be offended. How dare they made light the suffering of my father and uncles who barely survived the re-education camps. Or my grandfather who perished during brutal land reform.

No doubt million who were fortunately to have survived Soviet Gulag are equally offended.

At 3:18 PM, June 01, 2005, Blogger Michael B said...

"And if leftists might feel a tad remorseful about the excesses of Communism such as the Gulag, what better way to expunge their feelings than to say Bush is running his own Gulag?"

Exactly, the shallow, solipsistic quality, the facile egoism, once again, so much at the heart of it.

Too, as indicated in Minh-Duc's comment, in using this type of reality-averse rhetoric, the effect of the real gulags in the Soviet Union, in Mao's China, NorKor, Cambodia, Vietnam, it's all obscured, i.e., again re-validating Stalin's dictum about "mere" statistics. And why? So the contemporary, increasingly superfluous Left can continue to feel good about themselves. But the U.S. and the West have been so imperfect, their own sins! Ah yes, ergo, it's all the same, all equivocated away into the social/political ether, the endless and endlessly facile uses of the rhetorical tu quoque.

If the Classical Liberal camp (currently a too amorphous, inchoate centrist/conservative core) ever arrives at a point of concerted moral clarity and then aggressively and intelligently marches on the offensive, against the pseudo-liberals of the Left, they will win across the board, they will win the ideological war. The Left is too obviously weakened by their solipsisms, their self-enamored pieties, their quixotic lunacy, to mount another successful post-Tet social/political offensive in the West, especially in this age of evolving communications. But things can change if that decisive point, in the social/political sphere, is not reached. For one, the currect conflict is not unlikely to be a conflict measured in decades, not a few years, so a certain qualititative vision will need to be maintained and adhered to throughout. Additionally, it's not at all unlikely the West will be visited by WMD's, not within the next ten years perhaps, but sometime after that, all depending upon a variety of successess/failures in the interim, obviously.

AI, Animosity International, amply reflects several core problems in the West, for one, they significantly dilute a more sound moral clarity and the resolve and commitments that can result from such clarity.

At 3:53 PM, June 01, 2005, Blogger Brian H said...

That knowledge of Absolute Truth is (humanly) unobtainable does not mean one should give up trying to find and express it. In fact, the opposite: it means one should never QUIT trying.

At 3:57 PM, June 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never posted here before, but I've been reading for a couple of months and really appreciate your analysis, neo-neocon.

For a clearer picture of what Gitmo is really like, I would encourage everyone to read this article:

Lawrence Auster summarizes thus: "Two hot Islamically correct meals each day, plus a third ready-to-eat meal, low sinks in the cells making it easier for prisoners to wash their feet, arrows in the cells pointing toward Mecca making it easier for them to pray, a library stocked with jihadist literature, and guards who apologize for interrogating prisoners during Ramadan."

At 5:38 PM, June 01, 2005, Blogger Michael B said...


Another aspect of this Leftist insolvency, rhetoric, agitprop in a post at kosmoblog on Galloway entitled Working for Eurabia: A Recent Interview with George Galloway.

Essentially is focusing on a Galloway speech (one featured on Aljazeera.Net, unsurprisingly). But it's rather more of the same, though Galloway's is a much more overt, undisguised display of complicity and alliances with Islamicist interest whereas AI's is less overt, more in the spirit of the New Left's post-Tet PR offensives.

At 7:15 PM, June 02, 2005, Blogger knox said...

It's truly scary that Amnesty has become so thoroughly politicized (Leftist).

The world needs organizations like Amnesty to objectively report and fight against human rights abuses. God knows we can't count on the UN anymore.

If we ever could.

At 7:25 PM, June 02, 2005, Blogger BeckyJ said...

I'm reminded of the lyrics to a Jesus Christ Superstar song "but what is truth? We both have truths; are mine the same as yours?"

It appears that Amnesty has found its truth. They have also firmly and publically outed themselves as more concerned with a political agenda than with truly fighting abuse.

At 8:25 AM, June 03, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amnesty International made a huge mistake in using the word "gulag." They probably just meant "notorious prison." Now, instead of American citizens having to address the substance of the report, they'll feel justified in dismissing it.

At 9:08 AM, June 03, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think she said "Gulag of our time," presumably meaning a kinder, gentler gulag.

At 1:35 PM, June 03, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do we accuse Amnesty of becoming politicized for criticizing a conservative U.S. administration, when that same U.S. administration used Amnesty's reporting in the run up to the Iraq invasion to characterize Iraq as gulag that needed liberating?

At 4:58 PM, June 03, 2005, Blogger Minh-Duc said...


Because we expect the government (any government) to be political. It is their nature. But we expect NGO to be neutral.

At 11:25 PM, June 03, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I was being ironic. My point is that we don't call Amnesty politicized when they say things that support our position, but all of sudden they are politicized when they say things that criticize us?

At 7:25 AM, June 04, 2005, Blogger knox said...


We call them politicized based on the content of their accusations, not arbitrarily for our own political reasons. I don't expect the US to just get a free ride from Amnesty or anyone else.

AI revealed themselves by calling Guantanamo a gulag. It's an inaccurate and extreme comparison, like Bush=Hitler and the like. That sort of charged language is highly inappropriate coming from an agency like AI.

At 9:11 AM, June 04, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We call them politicized based on the content of their accusations, not arbitrarily for our own political reasons. I don't expect the US to just get a free ride from Amnesty or anyone else.

Content? Wow, what a concept. Looks to me like everyone here is so busy expressing righteous indignation at their word choice than actually reading the report.

Portlandpundit's point remains. The administration uses AI's reports all the time to challenge other countries. Now suddenly AI is no longer an organization concerned with Human Rights, but "people who hate America".

At 12:43 PM, June 04, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In a letter to the editor in today's New York Times, AI excutive director William Shulz writes, "If our reports are so 'absurd,' why did the administration repeatedly cite our findings about Saddam Hussein before the Iraq war? Why does it welcome our criticisms of Cuba, China and North Korea? And why does it cite our research in its own annual human rights reports?" In an article on page A5 of the same edition, Human Rights Watch points out that AI may have made an error in using the term "gulag," because this created an avenue for the U.S. administration to make this an arguement about semantics rather than the facts of the report, facts which the administration has yet to contradict. I think this is exactly what we are seeing happening, a deversion into an arguement about a word rather than facts.

At 4:02 PM, June 04, 2005, Blogger Michael B said...

Read of Vietnam's gulags here or here, or the Soviet gulags here.

Also, AI didn't make a simple "error" since they quite consciously used the term, they made a miscalculation that revealed their agenda. They are now in damage control mode and putting the best face on it they possibly can, still remaining on the offensive, of course. Since they are the ones who initiated the "semantic" salvo, it's conspicuous that they're feigning offense and umbrage about the administration's use of a semantic ploy.

AI owes many a sincere apology, not yet another rhetorical ploy, as the references provided above note.

At 9:00 PM, June 04, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael B,

I'll admit that AI is in damage control if you can admit that the U.S. administration is hypocritical for using AI reporting when it suits them and then attacks AI as "absurd" when AI's reporting criticizes them.

At 10:12 PM, June 04, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

AI sometimes gets it right. They used to be accurate.
There is nothing wrong with using the reports they get right and objecting to those they get wrong.
I believe the "absurd" was directed at the Gulag statement, not the content of the report, anyway, so the content of the report isn't an issue here.

If you nag somebody long enough, or get them before coffee or after wine, they may say what they really mean. AI did just that.

They'll have a very hard time recovering from letting their true agenda show. They should have a very hard time.

If they folded completely, that would probably be a good idea. They're wasting everybody's time and attention, since there is plenty of reason not to trust their reporting any longer.

Another organization with what was probably AI's original intent will eventually form.

At 2:37 PM, June 05, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...


This still doesn’t reconcile the fact that AI criticizes Cuba, North Korea, Iran, etc. It’s too easy to just dismiss them as some left wing cell showing their true colors by using the word “gulag.” Again, I find it a great distraction from the real point, which is about human rights abuses. The only thing the U.S. administration can dispute about the report is the use of the word “gulag.” All the content of the report is there for you to read. I think, perhaps, AI’s point is to highlight human rights abuses by the U.S. not as a way to put the U.S. on par with Cuba, North Korea, etc. That would be absurd. Instead, it seems, they wish to call the U.S. on its higher ideals-- in other words, let’s live up to what we’re fighting for.

At 4:04 PM, June 05, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To say that the only thing the US can complain about is the "Gulag" comment is false.
The entire report can be analyzed and the reader can take exception to parts of it. You presume that, except for the Gulag comment, everything else in the report is true.
AI did say "Gulag" with malice aforethought. They have not backed off their assertion. This has to mean something since it can't mean nothing.
Are we supposed to ignore it? Pretend it means nothing?
The US offends. The attention to the US offenses is legitimate as long as it's a way to fix the problem. But the primary use of the reports is to discredit the US effort--whichever it is--and so that's why we have bogus stories like the Koran issue.
Let me restate the latter. Detainees do it worst and most, nobody gets upset.
The Afghanistan riot didn't happen because of Newsweek, so the morons over their were rioting about something else, not upset with the Gitmo Koran issue.
Muslims kill zillions of Muslims, desecrating Korans and holy sites by the truckload and nobody gets upset.
The only reason for the Koran issue is to damage the US. It bothers nobody who is supposed to be bothered. Only anti-US people.
Ditto many other reports.

At 5:44 PM, June 05, 2005, Blogger Michael B said...

Normblog, here concerning the "gulag" statement itself, and here concerning AI more generally, can sufficiently stand in for my own views.

At 10:27 PM, June 05, 2005, Blogger Minh-Duc said...

Certain words and terminologies should be used with extreme care. "Holocaust" and "gulag" belong to this catergory. That is why even the most righ-wing bloggers were very harsh on Rick Santorium when inappropriately use the "Hitler" analogy.

I think people focus on the US and forget that Amnesty International actually offended victims of the Gulag. Irresponsible use of "gulag" by Amnesty International lessen the gravity of Stalin's crime and make light of the injustice suffered by the victims.

AI should retract its words and offer an apology, not to the US and because of the US, but to the victims of Stalin's crimes.

At 11:43 PM, June 05, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for the lively discussion. I still take issue with some of your last assertions, but I just don't have time to write that much. How about this: I'll admit that AI is full of a bunch of liberals who can't stand the Bush administration and that may have fueled their reporting, if you can admit that, despite who makes up AI, there might be some truth to their reporting? What do you say? I'll meet you half way.

At 9:53 AM, June 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Portlandpundit. You make an assumption that I believed nothing AI said was true.
It used to be credible.
Now, while some of the things they say may be true, it's not worth worrying about without independent confirmation.

The point is not that they lie, or might. It's that they can no longer be believed as an independent source.

I know they dislike the death penalty, and so anything they say about it is...what they say about it. I would only object if they try the usual lefty schtick about racist and so forth.

However, I really do object to selective outrage, not to mention Duranty-like whitewashing of the real baddies.

Is that close enough to half-way?

Sum. There's no use in paying attention to AI any longer because, even if they said something true, how would you know?

At 2:01 PM, June 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Can you recommend someone you consider an independent source of information about human rights abuses? I’m thinking the list is quite short. I think Howard Zinn said, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” And I’m thinking you’re going to hate the fact that I quoted Zinn!

At 2:19 PM, June 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know of no one independent source.
I find that, eventually, the US military gets it right. It takes pressure sometimes, but they get there eventually. But that may take a lot of time. I would guess that the reason is that human rights is not their immediate objective. It's their ultimate objective.
So they don't suffer from the MADD syndrome (What do you do when you run out of drunk drivers????) They don't have to make stuff up on human rights to justify their existence, nor do they take in a disproportionate number of western liberals who, whatever their conscious focus on objectivity (if they actually have one) are born and bathed in anti-western, anti-US sentiment their whole lives.
There are agencies who need to tread carefully to keep their access--as CNN did--thus giving us the possibility they're soft-peddling the worst cases in the worst countries.

So, I keep watching to synthesize various reports.

At 4:38 PM, June 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I might like to argue on the assertion that the U.S. military's ultimate objective is human rights, but that could take a long time. My dad, a career NCO in the army, always said that the army's goal was to "close and destroy." My older brother, definitely a long time conservative, tells me the military should be about destroying the enemy. He used this argument against sending U.S. troops to Bosnia and Kosovo (ironically, my younger brother wound up deploying to Bosnia three days after 9/11). But honestly, I do kind of think that's what the military is about, and I say this with no intention of condescension. However, what I really want to know is, since you feel there is no one independent source on human rights, can you name a few that I could check out to synthesize for myself?

At 9:45 PM, June 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used to be a grunt. My enlisted MOS was light weapons Infantry and my commissioned MOS was Airborne Infantry Small Unit Commander.
My father was an Infantry Small Unit Commander, so I had to do him one better with Airborne, but I don't think he was impressed. Didn't show it, anyway.

The purpose of our military is to kill people and break their stuff.
That,as I said, is the immediate objective. The result of that activity has historically been the spread of human rights, the ultimate goal.
Where we succeeded (WW II, Korea, Desert Storm, Civil War, etc.), the result was the spread of human rights. Now, I know that liberals prefer communist dictators who take power by killing most bodaciously and somehow morph it into grassroots support for the forces of liberation. Seen that.
Where we failed, Viet Nam, human rights suffered.

Since the military's immediate objective is not human rights, but destruction--metered destruction unless we go nuke--their vested interest in human rights within their own organization or vis a vis the enemy or civilians is not loaded by the primary need to be seen "doing something". They can take their time.

And, no I don't have any sources. I generally ignore human rights organizations on this matter. Too many of them over the years have equated the massacre at Hue--to make an example--with omelets, or changed the subject to capital punishment in the US.

It's generally a matter of following the news. I would recommend Cori Dauber of Rantingprofs for in-depth examinations of how the current unpleasantness is being reported. She is a poli sci prof with a background in rhetoric and debate. She looks at framing, sequence, loaded words, context, and so forth.

Got an example. In 1944, my father's unit was moving down the street of a Dutch town, after midnight. As they passed a house, the front door was jerked open. A sergeant fired into the door. The dead guy turned out to be a householder who figured that jerking open a door in the middle of the night in the middle of a war to see who was making all the fuss was a good idea. I have no idea if he'd already bred. He had an adult niece in the house with him, so the possibility exists, but he sure as hell Darwined himself.
The young woman, upon hearing these were Americans and not Germans said, "Autre chemise, le meme coeur." Understandable.

How do you think that would be reported today?

Theay also had a game rigged up for new prisoners. Somebody would seem to lose it, come charging at the guy, rifle in hand, to be tackled at the last moment, not before the weapon fired, by others. They used grenade blanks for safety, but the German wouldn't know that. Legal? Think anybody in the WW II MSM would care?
As it happened, in his division, they took all the Jewish soldiers out of the line units after they found the bodies of those the Germans had captured, mutilated most horribly. And this was the Wehrmacht, not the Waffen SS. Do you think the MSM today would bother reporting such a thing? Or AI? Probably wouldn't want to risk demonizing the enemy.

Anyway, the more I talk about this subject, the angrier I get.

At 12:37 AM, June 07, 2005, Blogger Hamza Khan said...

I have to agree with AI on this one. After the recent releases on findings of what our troops did my Qur'an, I say we court martial have the military officers stationed at GITMO.

At 10:12 AM, June 07, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm sorry to hear you've tired of this topic because I've really enjoyed reading your posts. Thanks for the insights. I guess as my final post on this topic, I'll just say that I do respect the good things that American soldiers, marines, etc have done. I just think we can't assmume it's all good. AI still reports human rights abuses in Cuba, North Korea, Iran, The Congo, The West Bank and Gaza (both my the IDF and Islamic militants), and many other places. Those reports don't seemed to be fueled by any anti-US, anti-Western sentiment. I still think we too easliy scapegoat the quality of the MSM when there is bad news.
Does the MSM lack quality reporting? Sure. Is all of their report filled with lies? I don't think so. We could easily say the same thing about the DOD. I think liberals should admit when the DOD is telling the truth or doing a good job. I also think conservatives should suck it up and admit it when organizations like AI tell the truth, even nasty truths about the U.S. Anyway, thanks again for the posts. I'll check out Cori Dauber as you suggested.

At 1:05 PM, June 07, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I said I was angry when I get too involved in the subject.

AI may tell the truth. Sometimes they do. The problem is, how do we know? That's the issue with credibility. AI has shot theirs--actually they shot it a long time ago--but this time they let their
--- hang out and now there's no question. They used to be subtler.

The MSM doesn't lie all the time. Sort of like Mark Twain's auctioneer: He never lied except when absolutely convenient.


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