Rather than respond in comments, I thought I'd write some of my thoughts here as a counterpoint to Edward's earlier post as it pertains to Amnesty International. The sentence most meriting a response is this:
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.
Unless it has changed its vision, Amnesty International has no business making such a point:
AI’s vision is of a world in which every person enjoys all of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards.
Emphases mine. There's no cherry-picking here, and there's no singling out a particular nation because that nation happens to be really, really powerful. The vision of Amnesty International is one standard applied to every person. To the extent that the leadership of Amnesty International has focused its ire on a country that has done more than any other on earth to advance freedom and human rights, it is an organization that has lost its bearings. To put it more forthrightly, the perspective of the leadership of Amnesty International is so whacked and so skewed that it's credibility as a human rights organization is in mortal peril. Consider the statement made by the Secretary General, Irene Khan:
The detention facility at Guantánamo Bay has become the gulag of our times, entrenching the practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law.
The Washington Post put it best:
IT'S ALWAYS SAD when a solid, trustworthy institution loses its bearings and joins in the partisan fracas that nowadays passes for political discourse. It's particularly sad when the institution is Amnesty International, which for more than 40 years has been a tough, single-minded defender of political prisoners around the world and a scourge of left- and right-wing dictators alike. True, Amnesty continues to keep track of the world's political prisoners, as it has always done, and its reports remain a vital source of human rights information. But lately the organization has tended to save its most vitriolic condemnations not for the world's dictators but for the United States.
That vitriol reached a new level this week when, at a news conference held to mark the publication of Amnesty's annual report, the organization's secretary general, Irene Khan, called the U.S. detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the "gulag of our times." In her written introduction to the report, Ms. Khan also mentioned only two countries at length: Sudan and the United States, the "unrivalled political, military and economic hyper-power," which "thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights."
Like Amnesty, we, too, have written extensively about U.S. prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay, in Afghanistan and in Iraq. We have done so not only because the phenomenon is disturbing in its own right but also because it gives undemocratic regimes around the world an excuse to justify their own use of torture and indefinite detention and because it damages the U.S. government's ability to promote human rights.
But we draw the line at the use of the word "gulag" or at the implication that the United States has somehow become the modern equivalent of Stalin's Soviet Union. Guantanamo Bay is an ad hoc creation, designed to contain captured enemy combatants in wartime. Abuses there -- including new evidence of desecrating the Koran -- have been investigated and discussed by the FBI, the press and, to a still limited extent, the military. The Soviet gulag, by contrast, was a massive forced labor complex consisting of thousands of concentration camps and hundreds of exile villages through which more than 20 million people passed during Stalin's lifetime and whose existence was not acknowledged until after his death. Its modern equivalent is not Guantanamo Bay, but the prisons of Cuba, where Amnesty itself says a new generation of prisoners of conscience reside; or the labor camps of North Korea, which were set up on Stalinist lines; or China's laogai , the true size of which isn't even known; or, until recently, the prisons of Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
Worrying about the use of a word may seem like mere semantics, but it is not. 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."
I don't usually cut and paste entire articles, but this one deserved it. After all, one of the Washington Post's columnists knows a thing or two about gulags. Morally equating a few hundred unlawful enemy combatants with the millions who died under the reign of Stalin is so irresponsible and so out of touch that Ms. Khan's judgment and leadership is too suspect for any reliance. John Podhoretz also offers a comparison between gulag and Gitmo. Consider also the words of William F. Schulz, the executive director of Amnesty International USA:
If the US government continues to shirk its responsibility, Amnesty International calls on foreign governments to uphold their obligations under international law by investigating all senior US officials involved in the torture scandal. And 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.
It is important to point out that, while Mr. Schulz is encouraging other countries to pinochet a dozen or so American officials, he is silent on the much worse transgressions by...
North Korea is one of the most tightly controlled countries in the world. The regime denies North Koreans even the most basic rights; holds tens of thousands of political prisoners under brutal conditions; and controls nearly every facet of social, political, and economic life.
In effect, the entire country is imprisoned by the North Korean government, but not a peep from Mr. Schulz about pinocheting Kim Jong Il. Or...
Cuba, where AI has not been allowed into for seven years. Curiously, even when the subject is Cuba, Amnesty International still blames America for Cuba's wrongs:
The US embargo and related measures continued to have a negative effect on the enjoyment of the full range of human rights in Cuba.
Yeah, right. If only the U.S. dropped the restrictions, then Castro would lighten up on his people. And when did Cubans under Castro ever have a "full range" of anything? To be clear, I do not fully support our Cuba policy, and would prefer that the restrictions on travel and cash transfers be lifted, but to blame America for the actions of Fidel Castro is beyond absurd, approaching plain stupid. For the countries that Fidel Castro visits, Mr. Schulz does not encourage them to put the bearded dictator under lock and key.
China. In AI's own words:
Tens of thousands of people continued to be detained or imprisoned in violation of their fundamental human rights and were at high risk of torture or ill-treatment. Thousands of people were sentenced to death or executed, many after unfair trials. Public protests increased against forcible evictions and land requisition without adequate compensation. China continued to use the global “war on terrorism” to justify its crackdown on the Uighur community in Xinjiang. Freedom of expression and religion continued to be severely restricted in Tibet and other Tibetan areas of China.
Does Schulz suggest some time in the slammer for Hu Jintao? Nope. How about...
Sudan, where there is an ongoing genocide? The harshest thing Schulz can muster is to encourage Secretary of State Rice to go there and to support the International Criminal Court in its investigation of crimes committed. This is brain farting nonsense, tantamount to closing the barn door after all the horses have run out. What Darfur needs right now is action, not visits, not tribunals after the crimes have been committed. Does Schulz envision a jail cell with al-Bashir's name on it? Apparently not.
The point is this. To the extent that Amnesty International overemphasizes transgressions made by the United States, they are underemphasizing the many more serious violations in the rest of the world, and that is a fundamental disservice. In their work, the one factor they should be spotlighting more is denial of access. If AI isn't allowed in or is hampered by excessive restrictions, the operating assumption should be that the government is hiding something and to expect the worst. By documenting only snippets of what is available in places like China, North Korea and other places of repression and oppression, the picture they're painting is out of kilter.
What are AI's apparent priorities? From its individual country reports, the snapshots it gives are of the countries' positions on the death penalty, the International Criminal Court and UN Women's Convention and its Optional Protocol. Does it provide a snapshot glimpse of a country's own system of checks and balances or its own rule of law relating to human rights? No, and that's a problem. When William Schulz states that the "US government is a leading purveyor and practitioner of this odious human rights violation [torture and ill treatment]," by what measure does he have to make such a conclusion? None. Amnesty International has no rating system, and they provide no reportage which quantifies or objectively measures alleged transgressions of the governments in the world. In effect, there is no mechanism for country-by-country comparisons. That is a fundamental disservice because, in doing so, AI fails to prioritize the worst abusers of human rights.
Also, if openness is a policy that Amnesty International is in favor of, they could start with themselves. While their website states that "no funds are sought or accepted from governments for AI’s work investigating and campaigning against human rights violations," their financial disclosures are opaque when it comes to knowing who the big benefactors are. If a large chunk of the funding is coming from Bush-hating liberals, it would explain quite a bit.
Because of the odd and distorted emphases by its leadership, also called into question is the culture of Amnesty International. If this person does indeed work for Amnesty International, and if the leadership agrees with any semblance of that distorted worldview, then the organization is in serious trouble.
One other quibble with Edward, when he wrote:
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 AI 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.
I believe we should (and do) hold ourselves to a higher standard, but it's unreasonable to expect a perfect standard. Also, he's conflating issues (unless he's suggesting we're a tyranny). We've made our share of mistakes with prisoners and detainees, but another measure of having higher standards is what's being done to fix them (the mistakes, not the prisoners/detainees). The discoveries and investigations of ill treatment, abuse and torture were made by US investigative authorities. CBS News didn't discover Abu Ghraib, the US military did.
Just to clarify my views on prisoners and detainees, I'm seldom in complete agreement with anyone, but I am with Dale Franks and Jon Henke in their superb post on how we've treated them and what need to do. I give you the final paragraph, but if there's any post worth a full read, this is it:
But the current state of affairs, with undeniable widespread abuse, torture and murder—either ordered, tacitly condoned, or at least not stopped, by the chain of command—is simply unacceptable. It deserves bipartisan outrage, especially from those of us who support the Bush administration's execution of the War on Terror. For if we cannot stand against torture and murder, then what do we stand for at all?
My preferred method of dealing with these terror prisoners would be to get two captains and a major together as a tribunal, declare them to be unlawful combatants, and put them in front of a firing squad. Now, maybe, because we're nice guys, we could let them know that if any of them give us verifiable, useful information, then we'll commute their sentences, and won't shoot them. Otherwise, however, it's a blindfold and a last cigarette for the lot of 'em.
The difference of course, is that doing so would be legal. [See update below]
I don't think this was what Tom Friedman had in mind, but it would effectively end the detainee operation at Gitmo. Such a course may put the collective panties of AI in a twist, but at least there would be no violation of the Geneva Conventions.
Update: I don't fully agree with Dale Franks because they should be judged, per approved military procedures, to be or not be unlawful enemy combatants, not simply declared so. Also, executions may not be in conformance with the UCMJ. If they're not allowed, then detainees they should remain at Guantanamo if they're judged as unlawful enemy combatants, and be treated humanely.