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June 10, 2005

Comments

Three reasons:

1. Potential Impact. The United States is a democracy. If a sufficient number of foreign nations were to hold trials and determine that Bush is guilty of war crimes, this might actually tip an election. This, in turn, might very well lead to the dismantling of the concentration camp at guantanamo. By contrast, if several foreign nations were to hold trials and determine that Castro is guilty of war crimes, what difference would it make? He's not going anywhere. AI may simply be spending its efforts in a place where it might actually matter.

2. The US is a world leader. People look to us to set an example. Therefore, bad behavior on our part is more dangerous than bad behavior on Cuba's part. If Cuba maintains a concentration camp, people think "ugh, Cuba. I'm glad we're not like them." But if the US maintains a concentration camp, people think "maybe it's okay to do this." AI may simply be thinking that this needs to be nipped in the bud before we set a global precedent --- something that Cuba could never do.

3. It's more painful. When I was in grade school, I took civics classes in which I learned about the constitution and the founding fathers, and I was very proud to be part of such a great country. Seeing Cuba act badly is sad, but expected. But seeing the US act this way is wrenching. It's hard to let go of the ideal, the dream of the perfect land. Under such circumstances, it's easy to lash out at those who brought the dream to an end. I suspect that this is the real reason behind AI's extreme reaction.

Because the US is an empire involved in military operations outside its borders?

Another pointless deflecting post about the problem of US abuses. These seems to have become beyond an obsession for conservatives.

It is irrelevant that you are on record against the abuse policy. The issue is the following -- from the quotation in your post:

The refusal of the US government to conduct a truly independent investigation into the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison and other detention centers is tantamount to a whitewash, if not a cover-up, of these disgraceful crimes. It is a failure of leadership to prosecute only enlisted soldiers and a few officers while protecting those who designed a deliberate government policy of torture and authorized interrogation techniques that constitute torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

On this point, you are utterly silent and, in my view, basically complicit because of your silence. Further complicity is in the form of whining about AI's inappropriate recommendations. What is the point of wringing your hands about awful abuse when nothing is done to address the cause?

If you are truly against abuse, them you must condemn the Bush administration which continues to reward those most responsible for this outrage. Sorry. There is no middling position for conservatives so that they can avoid condemning their hero.

The international trend of having one country arrest and prosecute someone for crimes committed elsewhere is, in my opinion, weird. I think jurisidiction is an important concept, because otherwise you end up with courts more political than legal. I have no support for AI's call for such action.

However, I am sympathetic to the following. What do foreigners do in response to the outrage of US policy? They have pursued a very uneven policy of extra-territoriality with regard to such matters (Pinochet, etc.), but what other option do they have to deal with that very unruly 800 pound gorilla that keeps crapping in the living room.

Or else you like the neo-con idea of American empire in which we use force and fear to spread our "values." Freedom is on the march.

-"Why would AI reserve its strongest requests for international action for US abuses while failing to do so for far worse abuses such as those of Castro or Mugabe?"

Agreed: The degree of abuse is part of the equation. But the international power and influence of the abuser is a part as well.

Because the guy's from Amnesty U.S.A. (I am sure the leaders of Amnesty Zimbabwe and Amnesty Cuba would be equally intemperate and focused on the harms perpetrated by their countries, should those organizations be allowed to exist, the same way Amnesty Canada is all over Canada's minor-compared-to-ours-and-Syria's wrongdoing in the Arar case), has a political tin ear or is in a desperate state that one should not compose press releases in?

I don't know to what extent the British based international Amnesty controls the U.S. chapter; if they do, they should urge it to safeguard the organization's credibility more carefully and be more consistent. If Amnesty USA really is independent and is supposed to be focusing on the US, they should still think before they speak for the sake of credibility and effectiveness, but I think it's understandable that they focus on the USA.

You should note, also, that right now they are asking for an INVESTIGATION. They are only asking for arrest if the investigation turns up enough information to support a prosecution. Do you think that is likely? If so, might you have bigger things to worry about than Amnesty's political tin ear and failure to keep its U.S. director from shooting his mouth off?

Or do you worry that European countries will try to arrest administration officials on trumped up charges? I don't believe you worry about that; you're much too smart. Far more likely that they will never start an investigation, and if they do they still won't arrest a U.S. official no matter what that investigation finds. I doubt even the low ranking officials who participated in the rendition of Osama Nasr from Milan to Cairo or the kidnapping of German citizen Khaled el-Masri to the Salt Pit will ever be prosecuted.

It's true, it's bad for the organization's credibility, and it's also just plain wrong to focus on U.S. officials rather than foreign leaders who have committed worse crimes--if I worked for them I'd say: okay, we got everyone's attention with gulag for better worse, now is the time for scrupulous, unimpeachable accuracy and balance. On the other hand, they're not even making factual errors, so their credibility as to factual matters will not suffer among fair-minded people.

And, I do not deliberately exaggerate. The truth is bad enough, the truth is bad enough, the truth is bad enough; credibility is the only thing my side has in this fight. But part of what motivated my as-detailed-and-temperate series on rendition, which led to my mind-numbingly-detailed and footnoted paper on rendition, was this line from Brad DeLong on the Arar case:

"Impeach George Bush and Richard Cheney. Impeach them now. We are the United States of America. We do not do things like this."

and this line from Brian Weatherson on same:

"Personally I’ll be disappointed if no one from the administration ends up in jail over this."

So, while we're talking about priorities--this press release is an example of why I prefer Human Rights Watch and the ACLU to Amnesty, personally. But I have bigger things to worry about.

One of the things that's striking about all the posts by Charles, and now this post by you, is that not only is the administration DOING far worse things to people than issuing a badly thought out press release--it's also acquitting itself very badly indeed in what it's SAYING about its interrogation policies. Amnesty International has made lousy historical analogies and badly thought out press releases, but they have not gotten the facts wrong and they have certainly not deliberately lied or attempted to mislead people. The administration has, repeatedly, in answers to questions about its torture and interrogation policies.

Perhaps you're genuinely worried about its credibility because you agree with them and you don't want conservatives to dismiss them? I don't believe that for a second of Charles (and Charles, you will not convince me by anything you say in a comments thread, so don't bother); I might of you. But look--your concern is misplaced. You're assuming we have a competent press, and we simply don't, and so their over the top historical analogy was probably a fairly significant net gain in getting their message out; that one word will probably have far more effect than all the words I have ever written and will ever write about rendition.
Anyway, there are much more direct ways to influence U.S. policy than criticizing an NGO you don't like anyway, in a forum they will not read, in a way that contributes to an overall conservative dismissal of an organization that gets it facts right an overwhelming majority of the time, in the vain hope that Amnesty will issue more temperate press releases, and then when Amnesty stops harshing on us so much compared to Zimbabwe the people who have ignored mountains of evidence of torture by the U.S. will suddenly have the scales fall from the eyes.

Probably you haven't made all these calculations, and are simply saying what you think and not going through this elaborate calculation about what sort of priorities it shows and whether it will help or harm things. Fair enough. I suspect Schultz did much the same, though he has less excuse--he is speaking for an organization and not only himself, and he is paid and you do this for free.

Here is one of my favorite passages from Georde Orwell:

But unfortunately the truth about atrocities is far worse than that they are lied about and made into propaganda. The truth is that they happen...There is not the slightest doubt, for instance, about the behaviour of the Japanese in China. Nor is there much doubt about the long tale of Fascist outrages during the last ten years in Europe. The volume of testimony is enormous, and a respectable proportion of it comes from the German press and radio. These things really happened, that is the thing to keep one’s eye on. They happened even though Lord Halifax said they happened. The raping and butchering in Chinese cities, the tortures in the cellars of the Gestapo, the elderly Jewish professors flung into cesspools, the machine-gunning of refugees along the Spanish roads—they all happened, and they did not happen any the less because the Daily Telegraph has suddenly found out about them when it is five years too late.

These things really happened, that is the thing to keep one's eye on. They did not happen any the less because Amnesty International made bad historical analogies about them or wrote more numerous and harsher press releases about them than about even worse atrocities elsewhere.

"If you are truly against abuse, them you must condemn the Bush administration which continues to reward those most responsible for this outrage. Sorry. There is no middling position for conservatives so that they can avoid condemning their hero."

You can read my previous writings on the topic or not, your choice. If one can loudly decry the Bush administration torturing dozens while talking softly at most about Mugabe starving thousands, one can certainly both complain about Bush's administration torturing and complain about a self-proclaimed neutral organization's focus on far lesser abuses within its area of expertise.

By your logic I could say to you, that if you were truly against intentionally starving thousands of people to death you wouldn't be focusing on mere torture by the dozens by the Bush administration.

You can be against lots of things. You can talk about lots of things. But if you are an organization which alleges to focus on human rights abuses and you save your strongest forms of condemnation for abuses which are orders of magnitude less than other abuses of which you are aware, it suggests that your alleged focus and your actual focus are not the same.

It is perfectly acceptable to be an organization which used to focus on protecting human rights as a universal goal, but which now prefers to focus on human rights on as relative to how it intersects with criticism of the US. But such an organization shouldn't be surprised if it doesn't get treated like the non-partisan group that it used to be.

Similarly the US should not be surprised if it loses some of its 1950s reputation of nation you would least mind being defeated by in battle if we don't treat people well later. Changes in actions change your reputation.

"Or do you worry that European countries will try to arrest administration officials on trumped up charges? I don't believe you worry about that; you're much too smart. Far more likely that they will never start an investigation, and if they do they still won't arrest a U.S. official no matter what that investigation finds. I doubt even the low ranking officials who participated in the rendition of Osama Nasr from Milan to Cairo or the kidnapping of German citizen Khaled el-Masri to the Salt Pit will ever be prosecuted."

Of course European countries aren't going to actually arrest anyone. Part of the reason why so called international law is such a mess is that Europe isn't willing to take real steps against even the worst actors in super-easy situations against weak powers. All the European press about the triumph of the ICC going opening up an investigation in the Sudan just shows how pathetic the whole farce is. The genocide in the Sudan is ongoing right this very second. An ICC investigation does absolutely nothing to stop it--hell Europe won't even call it a genocide, and the US calls it genocide but doesn't do anything.

My point is that the very worst that AI can countenance doing against the evil they report (which is admittedly almost nothing anyway so perhaps I shouldn't care) is reserved against US actions instead of the very serious abuses of Cuba or the mind-blowingly vicious actions in Zimbabwe (and the almost beyond comprehension evil of North Korea).

It is as if a judge had the ability to sentence people to give someone a dressing down, sentence them to 1 month in jail, or sentence them to 5 years in prison. For a murder and rape he gives the criminal a dressing down. For kidnapping he gives 1 month in jail. For burglary he gives 5 years in prison. We would think that something is seriously wrong with his idea of justice--completely apart from the fact that even if he were giving the harshest sentences to the worst offenders he would only be punishing the murder-rapist with 5 years in prison.

You could be against murder-rapists, you could be against kidnapping, you could be against burglary, you could be against all of them and still think that he had his priorities out of whack--especially if he put himself out as someone who was an expert in looking at crime.

Katherine,

I have read your other comments here (and at Discourse?), but this was REALLY good! Thank you.

Is your paper on rendition available online?

correction: it turns out there is an AI Zimbabwe, but they don't appear to have a website. No AI Cuba.

Again this is the executive director of Amnesty International USA. It is not surprising that he would focus on human rights abuses of the USA. The country chapters are not identical to each other or to the scrupulously accurate London research office that produces that factual reports. All of the websites draw material from those reports, but you also have Amnesty Ireland advertising tickets for a showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show in honor of gay pride week; Amnesty Canada's emphasis on the Arar case and especially the Canadian government's role in it; the EU chapter's focus on treatment of immigrants and terrorism suspects by EU countries; Amnesty South Africa focuses heavily on Zimbabwe's horrific abuses and the South African government's inadequate response, and so on and so forth.

I suspect any excessive focus on the US comes less from some nefarious decision from central headquarters to stop "focus[ing] on protecting human rights as a universal goal" in favor of a "focus on human rights on as relative to how it intersects with criticism of the US" (really Sebastian--what an utterly ridiculous characterization; you deserve everything Randy Paul is going to say about it) than the fact that it has a disproportionate number of members, with a disproportionate amount of resources, living in the United States and like all AI members they tend to care most about the human rights abuses perpetrated by or against their own country.

Sebastian Holsclaw,

Since you have responded to Katherine and dmbeaster, I was wondering if you might also comment on the international power and influence/world leader focus that Josh Yelon and I have raised upthread. This issue has been brought up before and has not been commented upon by posters condeming AI's use of "gulag." I would very much appreciate your thoughts on the subject.

Thanks.

"than the fact that it has a disproportionate number of members, with a disproportionate amount of resources, living in the United States and like all AI members they tend to care most about the human rights abuses perpetrated by or against their own country."

To my knowledge AI US hasn't focused on atrocities perpetrated against the US. I fully admit that I may have missed statements from the executive director on Daniel Pearl's murder. What I remember is terse statements like

Amnesty International condemns the killing of Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl who had been abducted on 23 January in Karachi and held hostage since then. A video showing his beheading was received by Pakistani and US officials on Thursday.

"The kidnapping and murder of a journalist, or of any civilian, violates the most fundamental principles of humanity. Those responsible for the murder of Daniel Pearl must be brought to justice," Amnesty International said.

The taking and killing of hostages is prohibited in all circumstances under international law."

No intemperate language. Framed of course in its appropriate context on the "Justice Not Revenge: 11 September Crisis" page. Failure to mention that he was called a dirty Jew and not just killed for being a journalist was probably unintentional or out of Amnesty International's well understood policy of avoiding inflammatory commentary or innuendo?

katherine: the fact that it has a disproportionate number of members, with a disproportionate amount of resources, living in the United States and like all AI members they tend to care most about the human rights abuses perpetrated by or against their own country.

...and that attitude appears to be one that even Sebastian Holsclaw finds incomprehensible. Indeed, this seems to be the common factor among all right-wingers who have posted here, front page and in comments, about AI: they cannot comprehend why Americans would care most about human rights abuses committed by the US: because (from what they've said) they care most about human rights abuses committed elsewhere.

"I was wondering if you might also comment on the international power and influence/world leader focus that Josh Yelon and I have raised upthread."

Sure. If an organization believes that criticizing a world leader in its area of organizational focus is more important than focusing on cases which fall in its organizational focus and are orders of magnitude worse, that is perfectly within the realm of organizational decision-making. Choosing to do that makes an organization which is focusing on criticizing a world leader and doing so in a particular area of focus more than it is an organization which is attentive to its area of focus.

For example I am unsurprised when a highly partisan organization such as MoveOn.org chooses to criticize statements of Republicans while not criticizing similar statements by Democrats. MoveOn.org is set up as a highly partisan organization. Therefore all information I receive from MoveOn.org must be filtered with the fact that I don't expect them to tell the whole story accurately because their focus is not on reporting, their focus is on Republican-bashing.

That is a perfectly acceptable focus for an organization, but it is also perfectly understandable that I should discount what they say because their mission is not reporting.

If the unstated mission of AI is to criticize the great powers in the arena of human rights in preference to criticizing lesser powers for far worse human rights abuses, that is a perfectly legitimate goal for an anti-great power organization. AI did not (to my knowledge) start off as an anti-great power organization (with its focus when acting against a great power in the human rights arena) and cannily does not market itself as one. But if that is to be its focus, so be it.

Is that what you want its focus to be?

"Not one of those good people whose lives we commemorate September 11 asked to be part of a drama. Not one of them knew that their deaths would trigger
a worldwide struggle. Not one could have imagined all that their dying has come to mean.

For some it has come to mean almost no end to anxiety. For others it has spurred hatred of a debilitating intensity. For many it has given birth to suspicions of the stranger. And for almost all of us it has unsettled our lives.

But out of the ashes of that terrible day have emerged other revelations. That our lives here in the United States are inextricably linked to the fates of others. That terrorism has a multitude of causes. And that our
security is tied tightly to the pursuit of justice. Justice for the victims
of the attacks and justice for the world at large.

For the human rights movement, this past year has brought a special set of challenges. What happened on September 11 was a crime against humanity. Despite all the controversies that have marked the ensuing months, we must not forget that. The people who lost their lives that day were victims of a horrific human rights crime. Our job at Amnesty International is to save
people from such ill fortune. And we, among others, failed."

excerpted from a statement on September 11, 2002 by William Schultz; link.

Not that this will do any good--if George Orwell cannot convince you I doubt anyone can.

From AI's current report on Cuba:

AI last visited Cuba in 1988 and has not been permitted into the country since then.

You're a genius, figure it out, OK?

In addition to the above...if you are not an AI member, now is the time to join.

Don't let those who give lip service to human rights do to AI what they have done to so many other people and organizations. Don't let them newsweek AI, don't let them cbsnews AI, don't let them Swift boat AI. It is too important.

Now is the time. Join or support, and do so vocally.

Sebastian Holsclaw,

Thank you for your response.

First three paragraphs: agreed. But part of AI’s mission is to “campaign” for human rights, not just report or criticize, so that all might enjoy them – in other words to affect change. Wouldn’t focusing on the nation with, arguably, the most international influence be within their originally stated mission and the best way to affect the change they are after? If one wanted to change the behavior of individuals within a company for the benefit of the company as a whole, wouldn’t it make more sense, and still be in keeping with that mission, to more vociferously direct criticism to the CEO than to the janitor? Does AI need to state that it is or is not an anti-great power organization? Can’t it just direct its attention to where if feels it can affect the most change in trying to accomplish its mission?

-"Is that what you want its focus to be?"

I don't have an opinion on what I want its focus to be - that is for AI to decide. I am not a member.

that is for AI to decide. I am not a member

Why not? Now is the time.

"For the human rights movement, this past year has brought a special set of challenges. What happened on September 11 was a crime against humanity. Despite all the controversies that have marked the ensuing months, we must not forget that. The people who lost their lives that day were victims of a horrific human rights crime. Our job at Amnesty International is to save
people from such ill fortune. And we, among others, failed."

I'm not sure what you want me to take from that statement. If I quote Bush on democracy are you convinced of his aims? Do you not tell me in almost every conversation that the proof is in the actions? If AI believes that Islamist terrorist attack was partially their failure (which is by the way kind of a silly thing to believe in my opinion) what have they done to address that failure? Perhaps he believes he is attacking terrorism by trying to minimize US abuses? Not ridiculous, but not the same as actually attacking terrorism either.

This follows a fairly common pattern. When speaking of crimes against the United States, AI retreats to generalities. 9/11 was a crime against humanity, but who perpetrated it? Its victims were subject to ill fortune? Fortune? Imagine an AI report on 9/11 if they talked about it like other things they report. We would have an exact numbering of the people incinerated or crushed with a separate accounting of the people forced to choose between fiery death and jumping to streets. We would have as detailed as possible tracing of lines of authority and financial support.

Do we hear how cruel fate tortured Iraqis? Of course not. We hear of the following X people who were tortured by the US government in the following Y ways at the following Z locations with inferences that V people who we aren't sure about may also have been tortured. Do we see circumspect locutions about those who committed the crimes? Certainly not. Do we see pretense that the crimes were an act of fate? I don't think so. We see names of people believed to commit crimes. We see organizations AI wants held accountable. We see it in exhaustive detail with huge helpings of hyperbole thrown in as well.

Would a director of Amnesty International ever say "Islamist terrorists are following a pattern of cultural extermination similar in kind if not yet in number to that committed against the Aztecs?" Of course not. AI would never say something so intemperate about an enemy of the United States. But it would say something just as crazy about the United States itself.

Felixrayman, why would I want to join AI? I would prefer to join a group which has its primary FOCUS on doing something about serious human rights violations. What does AI want done about the Sudan? I know it wishes the genocide would stop, but what action (other than waiting until all the people the perpetrators want dead are actually dead) does it want to take? I know it wants the ICC to investigate, but how is that supposed to stop the genocide? What does AI want to be done about Cuba? I know it wants the reporters and artists and playwrights released, but how does it see that happening? You write letters to convince governments to DO something. What is to be DONE? I know that AI would be thrilled if Mugabe was not starving thousands of his political opponents to death, but HOW would AI like that to happen? AI has fallen into the conceit that merely revealing a problem is actually dealing with it. Revealing a problem is merely the first step in dealing with it. But for so many problems, AI is completely unwilling to support any method of acting on the information it provides so as to stop human rights abuses from happening.

Now that I mention it, perhaps I finally understand why it must criticize the US so loudly. AI is philosophically against actions which are necessary to stop very serious human rights abuses. In order to have success at all without betraying its other philosophical understandings, it must not focus to much on the very serious problems.

Felixrayman, why would I want to join AI?

Sebastian, I know that you would not want to join AI. I was not speaking to you.

You've got your gun pointed in the wrong direction.

Schulz: “But out of the ashes of that terrible day have emerged other revelations. That our lives here in the United States are inextricably linked to the fates of others.”

One of the most important contributions by Environmentalists (and an aspect of the field I study as well, history): things are connected to other things.

-“what have they done to address that failure?”

If the assumption is that places like Abu Ghraib contribute to the creation or motivation of terrorists, then I suppose they are attempting to redress this problem by trying to get rid of them, perhaps by calling them “gulags” so that folks might be shocked into paying attention? If the GWOT is a “battle of ideas” wouldn’t trying to quash human rights abuses by the US be in keeping with lowering the number of terrorists?

-“but who perpetrated it?”

Aren’t they dead? How can they be held accountable now? If Rumsfeld had strapped a bomb to his waist and run into Abu Ghraib two years ago, I don’t think AI would be trying to hold him accountable today. Also, the terrorists that were involved but did not fly the planes, how would criticism from AI influence them? The mission of AI is to affect change.

-"AI has fallen into the conceit that merely revealing a problem is actually dealing with it."

But its power to deal with the problems it reveals is limited, so it calls on the most powerful country in the world, much more capable of affecting change than AI, to clean up its act first because it is an opinion leader and its behavior has a much better chance of affecting smaller nations than the other way around . . .?

Felixrayman,

My principle interest in this topic, as in the others to which I have commented, is to understand it. I will leave changing the world to those with moral certainty.

. . . why would I want to join AI? I would prefer to join a group which has its primary FOCUS on doing something about serious human rights violations.


***snort***

You mean like the Republican Party?

My principle interest in this topic, as in the others to which I have commented, is to understand it. I will leave changing the world to those with moral certainty.

The mind boggles at the crimes that would be committed while you wait for moral certainty. At some point, understanding will turn into action, or your quest for understanding is just mental masturbation. One or the other.

Felixrayman,

I don’t think it’s all as simple as your assessment makes it out to be.

-“The mind boggles at the crimes that would be committed while you wait for moral certainty.”

If I were omnipotent, perhaps.

Who says I am waiting?

-“At some point, understanding will turn into action, or your quest for understanding is just mental masturbation. One or the other.”

This “one or the other” dichotomy is just the sort of thing I am skeptical about and that limits understanding. Its acceptance is part of the moral certainty that you find so important. Turning understanding into action is predicated on the certainty of the understanding.

There are other things to question about your response, but this whole line of thinking has the potential to degenerate even more than it already has and is not pertinent to the topic of the post. And anyway, why do you say “masturbation” like it’s a bad thing? :)

The refusal of the US government to conduct a truly independent investigation into the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison and other detention centers is tantamount to a whitewash, if not a cover-up, of these disgraceful crimes. It is a failure of leadership to prosecute only enlisted soldiers and a few officers while protecting those who designed a deliberate government policy of torture and authorized interrogation techniques that constitute torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The government’s investigation must climb all the way to the top of the military and civilian chain of command.

And the lack of outrage from the population, in particular Republicans and so called conservatives, shows how far we have slipped into fascism.

Sebastian, is there some sort ticket-punching going on that us non-GOP people don't know of:

"23 (a) Demonstrate willingness and ability to rant at great length and volume about trivialites when needed to distract from GOP administration realities."

Its acceptance is part of the moral certainty that you find so important

I find it so important?

Mostly I just want results.

Results predicated on moral certainty, or else they won't be the results you are after.

Results predicated on moral certainty, or else they won't be the results you are after.

Welcome to the realm of the completely off-topic, otto. Enjoy your stay.

I already said that.

bah. more inane messenger-attacking and wagon circling.

What crimes did you prevent today, felix? Being the Action Hero Crusader that you are, and all.

Ok, that's just about enough of that. Please reread the posting rules, take a few deep breaths of fresh air, and then try politeness and courtesy. As, you know, REQUIRED by the posting rules.


"Aren’t they dead? How can they be held accountable now?"

Has Donald Rumsfeld tortured anyone? Has Dick Cheney put his panties on anyone's head?

What an idiot.

...and now Sebastian Holsclaw chimes in with his attempt at maintaining focus on the trivial.

This issue has been rehashed ad nauseum and reduced to the point of redundancy.

I find it sad that none of the main pagers - even the 'lefties' - found the time to comment on the following events of the week (courtesy The Carpetbagger Report):

* The Bush White House let a former lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute re-write a government report on global warming, editing out scientific conclusions he didn't like.

* Bush's Interior Department offered to overpay a wealthy Republican donor for oil and gas rights on Everglades land that the government apparently already owns, overruling the advice of career officials.

* The Pentagon's inspector general released a report on a lucrative Air Force contract for Boeing that cost too much for planes the military didn't want. Bush, who has enjoyed generous campaign contributions from Boeing, was involved with the contract, personally asking White House aides to work out the deal and dispatching Chief of Staff Andrew Card to participate in the contract negotiations. When the inspector general's report came out, 45 sections were deleted by the White House counsel's office to obscure what several sources described as references to the Bush gang's involvement in the lease negotiations and its interaction with Boeing.

* Documents from the U.S. State Department published this week show that the president backed away from the Kyoto global warming treaty after being pressured by ExxonMobil, the world's most powerful oil company, and other industries.

* Bush officials at the Justice Department inexplicably decided to reduce its settle request with the tobacco industry from $130 billion to $10 billion, and urged government witnesses to soften their recommendations about sanctions.

The ongoing insubstantial harping over the perceived bias (or lackthereof) on the part of AI is utterly ridiculous. The amount of time and energy spent arguing trivialities (and, despite the importance of US participation in illegal detention and prisoner abuse, the arguments have overwhelmingly centred on semantic chickenfeed) at the expense of substantive issues is completely unforgivable.

When did ObWi become a single-issue echochamber?

Mattbastard, you might want to consider those lease negotiations occurred under the Clinton Administration, and...hey, I'd be interested in seeing those details, too.

But in the aftermath of those, at least three high-level Boeing execs (including the CEO) have been shitcanned, and I believe Darleen Druyun's been taken to court; I'll have to dig up that story in a bit. Oh, and Boeing has taken some (arguably hand-slap) rather large hits by being denied ability to even bid on some contracts.

Oh, and I'm going to delete am's comment and ban him just as soon as typepad lets me back in, which probably won't be for another hour. So, Edward, if you see this...

Frankly, Slartibartfast, I could care less about whether the leases were initially negotiated by the Bush or Clinton administrations.

Being Canadian, I have no partisan allegiance to either the Democratic or Republican parties. I directly quoted the text from The Carpetbagger Report, and don't really agree with the tone of the delivery. I apologize if that wasn't made clear.

A shady deal is a shady deal, regardless of who was originally responsible. I too would be very interested in hearing further details re: the Clinton admin's complicity and how the case has progressed.

Hopefully you'll post your findings to the main page, Slarti. Despite my disagreement with some (if not most;)) of your views, your presentation is always intellectually honest and thought-provoking.

I realize real life takes precendence to online activities. Still, it would be nice to see a new post from you at least once a week.

;)

dammit - i meant precedence, not 'precendence'.

I r teh smrt.

Welcome back, Sebastian. You've been missed.

Even if AI isn't the best human rights organization, it's far from deserving this endless bashing from the right for having the audacity to criticize the US. And the Bush administration is far from deserving this continuing distraction from and dismissal of the abuses it's responsible for.

Charles's participation is expected, since he gets the memos, but Sebastian and Von don't -- or at least they don't usually act on them when they get them. I'm mystified about why they consider the errors of AI to be worth this huge amount of attention.

In any case, I'm sending off my donation today.

In every Republican response to these issues that I've ever heard, there's always one line that bothers me most: “Now I have gone on record as being strongly against both extraordinary rendition and US implementation of torture.”

I don't know what I'm supposed to do with that. Sometimes (as here) it's sincere, sometimes it's not. But in every case, the form is the same. There's the explicit: “I'm against torture.” And the implicit: “But not enough to change my vote.” The line seems to function in precisely the same way as “some of my best friends are black” did back in the day. I assume it's meant as a badge of decency. But it really seems to say, “This is bad, but not that bad.”

At the end of the post, what have I learned about my fellow citizens (the underlying issue that bothers me most)? That, for voters like Sebastian, all else being equal, they probably wouldn't vote for someone with Castro's civil rights record. (Though, let's admit that's a “probably”: Castro's greatest enemy really could take he and his country off the face of the earth, has financed the invasion of his country, as has attempted (I think) a couple of assassination attempts against him. Who's to say?) This is substantially less comforting than y'all seem to think it should be.

“There's the explicit: “I'm against torture.” And the implicit: “But not enough to change my vote.””

Well let me declare that I’m not against torture. I don’t advocate it as U.S. policy because from what I’ve seen there is no evidence that it works. However, if it did then I would. As to vote changing had a challenger to the President put forth what I felt was a credible alternative to his national security policy then I would have voted for him. But the impression I got from the opposition during the last election cycle was that they were more interested in being liked by our increasingly aged, weakened and thereby useless European allies than killing terrorists. So I stayed with the guy already in office, warts and all. To the larger question of why there isn’t more outrage over America’s “gulags” the answer is simple- no major terrorist attacks since 9/11. Is detaining these people the reason for that? Probably not. But I wouldn’t expect a serious review of our anti-terror policies until we are hit again.

The issue that won't go a way...fascinating really, but My very last words on this topic (until the next time):

Credibility is the best weapon AI has in its arsenal, so it's a pity they've lost some through the use of hyperbole, but the measured message they issued in 2003 had zero impact on the US government. In the end, they have a mission. If their methods are not working, they need to change those methods.

I personally gained respect for them because of the gulag term. I think it's important to remember with regards to Castro or Mugabe that AI called for an "investigation" and not an arrest before then...again a melodramatic way to get their point across, yes, but hardly the smoking gun of having "lost their way" others suggest it is.

If I hadn't already seen supporters of the war effort attack the Red Cross, if I didn't see constant attacks on the ACLU, if I didn't see endless belittling of the United Nations, NGOs who dare to speak out, and every other body dedicated to ensuring equal treatment and equal accountability for all people regardless of whether they were lucky enough to be born in the USA or not, then I might be more willing to believe all this hoopla over "gulag" was not just more of the same systematic discrediting of any body that might call dare criticize the US.

Do these body's have agendas they're willing to fight for? Yes. Is the world's only superpower poised to be the target of lots of petty complaints? Probably. Are any of these groups out to destroy the US and worthy of all this acrimonious discrediting? Only the most paranoid would think so.

This seems to be some sort of a tag-team tar baby post...

A shady deal is a shady deal, regardless of who was originally responsible. I too would be very interested in hearing further details re: the Clinton admin's complicity and how the case has progressed.

Let me try and shortcut that line of discussion by saying that the intent of my comment was to note that if any administration is to be tarred by the Boeing deal, it's not this one. I can, however, envision some reasons why names were redacted that have nothing at all to do with protecting the guilty.

Basically what happened is that Darleen Druyun solicited Boeing for an executive position while she was a government employee in a position to influence funding of Boeing contracts. To a large degree, Congress has to rely on the Pentagon to honestly report the up- and downsides to funding a given acquisition, and Druyun was able exert influence to sway the decision process in Boeing's favor. So it's quite possible that many signed off on this deal based on Druyun's covert lobbying. Which invites additional oversight, I grant you.

I haven't commented on this in detail because it's a story that's at least three years old, and because I'm employed by Boeing's business competitor. I don't work for the company in any executive or PR capacity, and I don't represent the company's points of view, and I certainly wouldn't do so if asked. But for me to throw javelins in Boeing's direction could carry some perceived conflict of interest, even though I'd been on record on the LMT yahoo message board (while employed elsewhere) as being highly critical of Druyun's activities prior to her being caught and fired. If you want, though, I can research the facts and post them without much in the way of interpretation.

I just got to wonder in who's eyes AI lost credibility? Tacitus'? Sebastian's? Bird's? As exemplars of a class, they had absolutely no respect for AI in the first place. Von's? Much as he claims to be a centrist, I never really thought he had much on AI's side of the fence in the first place.

So, I'm pretty sure that AI hasn't lost any credibility with anyone who was behind their cause in the first place. Anyone with brain one can understand metaphor and the reason why you go after high profile people who can make a difference.

Losing Sebastian's, Bird's, Tacitus' and - heck - even Von's support for AI is like losing a vacuum in your backpack - It wasn't actually there in the first place and it sure as hell wasn't going to be there regardless of how you framed the question.

The problem is AI's message, not the way it's framed. However it was phrased, precisely the same reaction would have been elicited from these folks.

As Edward has pointed out, this is a recurring pattern that is entirely predictable. It's not going to change because of a better choice of metaphor.

If you want, though, I can research the facts and post them without much in the way of interpretation.

I wouldn't want to place you in a conflict of interest, slarti, but i'd appreciate it if you'd be willing to post an objective overview. It sounds you are more than qualified to examine the matter.

Ok, working on it. Mostly it's going to be a compendium of stuff freely available on Google, but I'm certainly willing to do the digging.

AI has fallen into the conceit that merely revealing a problem is actually dealing with it.
AI hasn't "fallen into" anything. "Merely revealing" problems has been the modus operandi and primary insight of AI since its inception. "Merely revealing" abuses has caused thousands of releases of prisoners of conscience throughout the world. AI doesn't have any troops; there are no AI commandos to drop into Darfur to separate the parties. When AI calls for "action," what it means is faxes, telegrams, letters, the clear message that the world is watching.

I recognize that you have problems with how they use their spotlight, that's great, whatever, I think your argument is balderdash (see Katherine and Josh Yelon above), but I seriously can't stand to get into this argument again. But for the record, AI has never claimed to "deal with" anything, at least not in the manner you imply. Its entire purpose is to "merely reveal."

The problem is AI's message, not the way it's framed. However it was phrased, precisely the same reaction would have been elicited from these folks.

Half-true. Conservatives would have beat up on AI no matter how they phrased their criticism of the US. I would have preferred that the conservatives look ridiculous and AI look noble, as opposed to the other way around.

Slarti -
For the truly insane, the DoDIG's 5-volume report on the tanker deal is available. I would very much like to hear your perspective - I have a professional interest as well (we represent large clients in this field).

I'm confused about the distracting claim that AI ignored the actions of the criminal conspiracy called Al Quaeda. Of course they did not ignore it, but it seems to me that their primary goal has been to stop human rights abuse committed by or tolerated by governments. Has AI given Pakistan and Saudi Arabia a free pass? Did they approve the Taliban and Saddam? Do we really want to draw a moral equivalence between the United States and Al Quaeda?

I have to agree strongly with katherine that the problem is what our government has done and that we must focus on the atrocious behavior of our government in dealing with these problems. Furthermore, those who keep harping on the poor way AI criticized the United States come across as apologists for human rights violations.

It may be appropriate to comment that AI seemed a bit over the top in its comparison of America's secret prisons with the Soviet Gulag, but on an NPR talk show the other day one victim of the Soviet Gulag called in to say that AI was correct to compare the two. I think it's a silly argument because it distracts from the behavior of this administration, and, as some people have noted, it appears that this is the intent of those attacking AI.

Our government is committing crimes, both against US law and international law. There are proper procedures to hold people who are a risk to us; it is the duty of this administration to follow those procedures. It is an inexcusable lie on the part of the administration for it to say that it cannot keep us safe except by breaking the law. If they cannot follow the law, they should resign and allow people who are willing to follow the law run the country. If they won't resign and they won't follow the law, it is the duty of the House of Representatives to impeach those who have chosen to break the law.

I would have preferred that the conservatives look ridiculous and AI look noble, as opposed to the other way around.

That and $3.60 will get you a venti mocha (double whip, non fat).

It's pretty clear what gets these guys' goat. It ain't nobility. It's labeling them. As Edward pointed out, they did the exact same thing to the IRC and the IRC didn't even use the word "gulag". AI only looks silly to the people without a soul who didn't have any respect for them in the first place.

You don't go looking for respect in the people who are bullies and the enablers of the behavior you're trying to change. That's called victimization and it's precisely the position they want you to be in.

It's a trap, as any high school student not in the in crowd can clearly demonstrate.

Ack...why does it seem 90% of conservative behaviour is an overcompensating reaction to their own hurt feelings.

To the larger question of why there isn’t more outrage over America’s “gulags” the answer is simple- no major terrorist attacks since 9/11. Is detaining these people the reason for that? Probably not. But I wouldn’t expect a serious review of our anti-terror policies until we are hit again.

Sulla is probably right. Unfortunately, when another attack occurs, Bush will probably declare that it's because of the carping by AI, etc., that he hasn't been able to REALLY take off the gloves, and the present abuses will come to seem downright convivial.

How many more attacks until a majority of Americans openly endorse a preference for security over liberty? Assuming they don't already?

I don't know if it's a lack of courage in this country, or pride, or what; we should be fierce in adhering to our system of justice, no matter what the terrorists do. Places like Gitmo are tantamount to statements that America isn't good enough, that our courts, etc. aren't up to the challenge.

I would happily scorn anyone who made such a claim; it's just particularly ironic when the person making that claim is the President of the United States.

Sebastian, I recall commenting on Schulz's offensive words here. They are every bit as outrageous and irresponsible as what Khan said.

Sebastian: you response still omits these words -- the Bush administration deserves the most severe condemnation for its abuse policy and its failure to then deal with the leadership that caused it (and even worse, basically covering it up and preventing any meaningful investigation).

Its either that or you are a buyer of bad apple nonsense.

You seem to believe it makes more sense to demean the unpleasant tone of the AI whistleblowers than to focus on the crime that has been uncovered. Yeah -- I wish they would use a nicer sounding whistle, but so what.

It is entirely off-base to argue that lesser degrees of torture matter less because greater torture exists elsewhere. This point of view seems to infect your thinking. What's next? The Bush administration is not so bad because Nazis were so much worse?

And frankly, I do care a whole lot more about the Bush abuse policy than greater abuses by foreign nations, and I think that is a very proper attitude for US citizens (including Amnesty U.S.A.). Your moral compass is broken if you seriously think that outrage by US citizens about US abuse policy should be tempered because certain foreigners stink more.

And what induced you to write this?

But if you are an organization which alleges to focus on human rights abuses and you save your strongest forms of condemnation for abuses which are orders of magnitude less than other abuses of which you are aware, [emphasis added]

What makes you think AI is doing this? Since when is calling for an outside investigation that the Bush administration admittedly refuses to conduct the "strongest form of condemnation?" Your entire premise is based on a fiction.

This whole freaking debate reminds me of The Empire Strikes Back.

Leia: Why, you stuck up,...half-witted,...scruffy-looking...nerf-herder!
Han: Who's scruffy-looking?

The current version:

AI: Why, you torturing, ... US citizen detaining, ... gulag running, ... extraordinary renditioner!
Administration: Who's gulag running?

Jesus effing Christ.

Fiction and a strange sense of priorities.

It's always a bad sign when the way something is said becomes far, far, FAR more important than what was said. It's a sign that the person offended isn't interested in discussing content and facts. Rather they are interested in diversion, smokescreens and... well... bullshit.

They're oh so reasonable. And oh so wrong.

Now that I mention it, perhaps I finally understand why it must criticize the US so loudly. AI is philosophically against actions which are necessary to stop very serious human rights abuses.

OK -- if you believe this, while still being unable to condemn the Bush administration for its abuse policy, then I know that your moral compass is completely broken.

Utterly disgusting.

Sebastian, I recall commenting on Schulz's offensive words here. They are every bit as outrageous and irresponsible as what Khan said.

And that, class, is a textbook example of what we call "poisoning the well." ;pp

Anderson,
I think the best strategy for opponents of the administration’s policies towards detainees would be to highlight instances of innocent people accidentally swept up as opposed to living up to a set of ideals. I believe Americans are practical people and usually prefer what works (or what they perceive as working) as opposed to what is right or just. When they see the barbarity of our enemies our own becomes more tolerable. However, they don’t like to see innocent people mistreated.

AI is philosophically against actions which are necessary to stop very serious human rights abuses

aw great. you've gone and blown another of my irony fuses.

i should just quit reading the conservative posters here.

You guys seem to be getting these "not a gulag" posts down to a more concise form, but you can still do a lot better. How about once a day somebody posts "Not A Gulag" - just the title, no body, we'll know what it means - and we can copy and paste the previous comment threads under it?

Ugh:
"AI: Why, you torturing, ... US citizen detaining, ... gulag running, ... extraordinary renditioner!
Administration: Who's gulag running?"

Right on!

The thing that makes my teeth grind so much when I read conservative denunciations of Amnesty International is the "Do as I say, not as I do" attitude. To wit:

Conservative bloggers: AI has lost credibility because they are concentrating on something bad (US human rights violations) when they should be concentrating on something much worse (other countries' human rights violations).

Me shouting at my monitor: Conservative bloggers have lost credibility because they are concentrating on something bad (AI's poor focus) when they should be concentrating on something much worse (US human rights violations).

I agree with Sulla's comment on the way to discuss this (torture and abuse) with the general public. Liberals always talk in legal terms, which matter, but not to most people. Conservatives talk in moral terms but they often have their morality all screwed up. The way to discuss our government's misbehavior is to talk up the cases of individuals--the cab driver who was tortured to death, for example,-- not to get into legal discussions. The legal disccusions can take place in court or in Congress. People care when they can identify with the victim.

Welcome back, Sebastian, missed your posting.

As I've said, I view a lot of the anti-AI hysteria as indicative of a job well done, and am doubling my annual contribution to this worthy organization in anticipation of better work to come. AI may have used inflammitory language to publicize a growing human rights problem, but I can't fault them for not trying to be more moderate. There is little moderate ground left to take, and anything critical of this administration will cause hysteria on the part of its supporters no matter what language is used, or what course is suggested. As has been pointed out, these people would not be supporters of AI anyway, so no loss there.

A few years ago, Canadian soldiers were responsible for the torture and murder of a Somali teenager caught stealing from their base. An inquiry resulted in the exposure of widespread racism within the regiment, and it was ordered disbanded and the regimental colours burned in shame.

I now realize that what was missing from this process of handling a human rights problem was the obvious lack of any enthusiastic criticism of terminology in the inquiry's final report, and the complete absence from the report of the behaviour of soldiers from other nations.

lily,

"The way to discuss our government's misbehavior is to talk up the cases of individuals--the cab driver who was tortured to death, for example,-- not to get into legal discussions."

The problem with talking about individual cases is that it becomes far too easy to blame a few bad apples, rather than the people who set free the whole bunch of maggots (to extend the analogy).

D-P-U,

As I've said, I view a lot of the anti-AI hysteria as indicative of a job well done, and am doubling my annual contribution to this worthy organization in anticipation of better work to come.

Congratulations for rewarding their transparent efforts to "energize the base." It's not a "job well done" to address real concerns with juvenile hyperbole. It's trolling.

AI may have used inflammitory language to publicize a growing human rights problem, but I can't fault them for not trying to be more moderate. There is little moderate ground left to take, and anything critical of this administration will cause hysteria on the part of its supporters no matter what language is used, or what course is suggested.

Does no one understand that your argument is more persuasive to people when you say it reasonably and without hyperbole, and then your opponent completely flips out anyways? Amnesty was looking good when the Administration was on the defensive; then the "gulag" crack came out and now it's just yet another political battle with no one being honest or fair. This makes most people tune it all out, which I don't think helps put an end to the torture that nearly everyone here wants to stop.

As has been pointed out, these people would not be supporters of AI anyway, so no loss there.

I've supported Amnesty in the past, but I won't consider it again. I'm not interested in yet another shrill and unprincipled political organization.

Dantheman,
I don’t believe this will ever flow up as high as you’d like it to. You might want to take what you can get.

This makes most people tune it all out, which I don't think helps put an end to the torture that nearly everyone here wants to stop.

there is one party in all of this who can stop the torture. it's not AI. it's not bloggers. it's not the media. it's not the UN. it's the GOP; and specifically, it's George W Bush.

and what do we see, whenever the subject comes up ? Bush, his party, and their suckups use the opportunity as a way to discredit the messenger and his political opponents instead of acknowledging the problem and doing what is required to stop it.

nobody is responsible for this torture more than he is. nobody is to blame more than he is. AI isn't torturing anyone. the media isn't torturing anyone. anti-Bush bloggers aren't torturing anyone. but the US military and intelligence agencies, under orders from George W Bush, are. and right now Bush is the only person who can stop it.

do you think he'd stop if people weren't yelling at him to stop ?

Jonas,

"Does no one understand that your argument is more persuasive to people when you say it reasonably and without hyperbole, and then your opponent completely flips out anyways? Amnesty was looking good when the Administration was on the defensive; then the "gulag" crack came out and now it's just yet another political battle with no one being honest or fair. This makes most people tune it all out, which I don't think helps put an end to the torture that nearly everyone here wants to stop."

I entirely disagree. As has been pointed out many times in the last 2 weeks, AI has in the past used temperate language in condemning these same acts, and no one noticed. The Administration was not on the defensive, because the public did not pay AI any attention. Now that AI used inflammatory language, it has made headlines and forced the issue onto the public's radar.

An addendum to my earlier list of thing that would make me believe that the Republican Party isn't committed to supporting torture and abuse:

- Anti-torture, pro-rule-of-law candidates running for office, preferably ones who genuinely are conservative in other ways as well (fiscal sensibility, federalism, and the like) but who in any event ground a public opposition to untrammeled executive power and its specific application in these matters in the Constitution and conservative tradition.

- Republican rank and file supporting those candidates with votes, donations, etc.

As it is, we have the token expressions of dismay followed by nothing in the way of constructive action, and I don't think it means any more than when elementary school teachers ordered the bullies to apologize to the children they'd been picking on. It is obvious that in practical terms, absolutely nothing is worth giving up to oppose torture, executive autocracy, and all the rest of this mess except possibly the endorsement of other bloggers committed to the president without restraint or bound. Wherever the inalienable rights of humanity rest on the ladder of priorities, it's obviously well below Bush's continued ability to pursue his policies, judged by what his party is actually doing about it: jack all.

Sulla,

"I don’t believe this will ever flow up as high as you’d like it to. You might want to take what you can get."

How high do I want it to fly? And how do you know?

(I contrast this to, for instance, what Atrios has done in the last two days. He took umbrage at the behavior of prominent people in the Democratic Party with regard to their criticism of Howard Dean, put the word out, and now Dean's part of the party is $50,000 to the better. He's done that before with other tipping points, too. To the best of my knowledge, nobody all is doing that among Republicans with regard to the tangle of issues that includes confinement without duration, interrogation without regard for the boundaries of torture, and so on. I would be happy to learn otherwise, of course - it would make me glad both that it's being done and that I knew about it. Where are the Republicans willing to give up anything at all for this?)

JC: Amnesty was looking good when the Administration was on the defensive;

In what way? Was AI's use of moderate language in last year's report causing the closure of Gitmo and result in the current administration completely gutting and rewritint their detainee procedures? Was the IRC's moderate tone putting the pressure on?

No it wasn't, and your suggestion that it was is surprising, to say the least. Unless by "looking good" you mean "not making waves."

Why does the phrase "kill the messenger" keep running through my head? Oy.

"(I excuse AI from making such demands about North Korea since its leader does not travel)."

Um, sure he does. Heck, he spent an entire month traveling by train across Russia in 2001. Then he took yet another train trip across Russia in 2002. He's popped back and forth to Beijing even more frequently. Taking ~8,000-mile-long round trips doesn't generally constitute "not traveling." And even the political distance between Moscow and Pyongyang has been fairly great since before his father died in 1994.

Mind, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for either the Russians or Chinese to authorize the arrest of Kim Jong Il. But that's a different matter.

"Amnesty was looking good when the Administration was on the defensive; then the "gulag" crack came out and now it's just yet another political battle with no one being honest or fair."

This isn't the first time I've heard this assertion, but I haven't seen any evidence for it. Anecdotally, it seems to me that significantly more attention has been paid by the general public to the Guantanamo situation since AI's report. You may not like it, but can you argue against it? And if indeed the outrage generated by the report (both pro and con) generates enough attention that pressure is placed on the administration to do something, and something is done, what then?

Dantheman,
Lacking a crystal ball I can’t know, but I do suspect the only people who will be brought to task for torture will be those who committed it and possibly their immediate supervisors. You seem to want, correct me if I’m wrong, those who you believe enabled torture to happen to be punished. That would take political pressure that doesn’t exist because at the end of the day most Americans just don’t care.

When did ObWi become a single-issue echochamber?

At what point did strikingly different opinions morph into an echo chamber?

And that, class, is a textbook example of what we call "poisoning the well."

Edward, on the rare occasions when I agree with your opinion and say, I shall consider that a poisoning as well.

Jonas: I would have preferred that the conservatives look ridiculous and AI look noble

You have half your wish. Conservatives attacking AI on the basis of "OMG THEY SAID GULAG!" look ridiculous. (Indeed, anyone attacking AI on that basis looks ridiculous.)

The other half your wish is trickier.

To me, acting with nobility requires risk and sacrifice in a good cause. Obviously, the greater the degree of risk, the greater the sacrifice, the better the cause, the more noble the action.

Amnesty International certainly is a noble organization. It takes risks; it requires sacrifice; it acts in a good cause.

Criticizing the US over its human rights violations, however, is certainly a good cause - but for most people (certainly for most Americans) it is not especially a noble action. It may be on a local level - for example, when Sebastian Holsclaw publicly criticized the Bush administration for its support of torture, and did so on a conservative blog, knowing that his audience were mostly pro-torture and pro-Bush, that was a noble action, albeit on a local level.

But generically, worldwide, Amnesty International workers take far greater risks and make greater sacrifices - and thus, act with greater nobility - in many other countries. I've said elsewhere that I think one definite point in the US's favor is that Amnesty International is able to document the US's human rights abuses, and in a fair amount of detail. Katherine has been able to provide, in immense detail, evidence that shows that official support for torture in the Bush administration goes up to a pretty high level. There are many countries where providing that proof would in itself put Katherine at risk. That is not so in the US - at least, not for US citizens.

So, your wish is half granted, Jonas. Absolutely, the conservatives attacking Amnesty International look ridiculous. But Amnesty International's standards of nobility - the level of risk and sacrifice that may be required - are sufficiently high that it can't be said that criticizing the US is enough to make them look noble: if they did no more than criticize the US, and ignored the rest of the world (as conservatives have claimed, with absurd falsity) they would not be acting nobly, though certainly they would be acting in a good cause. Nobility lies in the risk and sacrifice frequently required of AI workers elsewhere in the world: merely to act in a good cause is not enough to confer it.

"It's always a bad sign when the way something is said becomes far, far, FAR more important than what was said."

This is entirely wrong, because it's impossible to separate something said from how it's said. What's communicated is what's communicated; the words used are the words used. (Not that this odd misconception that somehow the words used to say something are separable from their meaning is at all uncommon, to be sure; it's particular common in defense of a bad choice of words ["oh, you're just picking on what I said, not what I meant] -- but if you mean something different from what you said, you need to instead say what you meant, rather than complain that people are pointing out you put something badly.) (Note: this is a general point I harp on; I remain uninterested in the apparently popular game of "yo mamma likes AI," "does not!")

Sulla,

"You seem to want, correct me if I’m wrong, those who you believe enabled torture to happen to be punished."

My beliefs do not enter into it. I do want those who decided torture was something which was acceptable for our government to do and to countenance other governments to do punished.

"That would take political pressure that doesn’t exist because at the end of the day most Americans just don’t care."

And deflecting all discussions of our decision to torture by claiming every messenger who brings this up are "Bush-haters" and "anti-Americans" who have gone off the deep end is exactly why the pressure does not exist.

Sulla: I think the best strategy for opponents of the administration’s policies towards detainees would be to highlight instances of innocent people accidentally swept up as opposed to living up to a set of ideals. I believe Americans are practical people and usually prefer what works (or what they perceive as working) as opposed to what is right or just. When they see the barbarity of our enemies our own becomes more tolerable. However, they don’t like to see innocent people mistreated.

(1) I agree, but as I think I mouthed off at CT a while back, we have yet to find an attractive, young, white woman (preferably blonde) who's been wrongly held at Gitmo. She'd be all over CNN and Fox.

The abuses we've been committing strike me as very unlikely without the background of racial & cultural prejudice against Arabs & other non-pale folks. Maher Arar, for ex, should be a great poster child. But put his picture on the TV, and the average reaction will be "look at the guy, they *shoulda* put him in jail." (Any word on whether Mr. Arar has, gasp, an accent?)

(2) Another problem is that we're abusing people without knowing whether they're innocent or not---the more I think about it, the more I think it's a brilliantly evil move by the Admin. We can't rail much about innocent people at Gitmo, because we don't know who's innocent---that's the point. We're holding them without regard for innocence or culpability.

(3) Finally, some of the people we're mistreating may in fact be guilty of something or other---but we still shouldn't mistreat them. Find 'em guilty in a fair trial, & imprison or shoot them: fine with me. But don't beat them to death and call it "interrogation."

This is the hardest part, because America is not a Christian nation, nor any sort of religious nation. We say we are. But what we do to our convicted criminals is excellent evidence to the contrary. And it's very tough to sell Joe Blow on the notion that even a terrorist deserves due process and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. "Turn the other cheek" is not something one heard much of after 9/11, and while I don't think it could be taken literally (see Machiavelli on impossibility of Christian politics), its spirit ought to guide America, if we're this super-evangelical nation. Except, again, we're not.

Dantheman,

As has been pointed out many times in the last 2 weeks, AI has in the past used temperate language in condemning these same acts, and no one noticed. The Administration was not on the defensive, because the public did not pay AI any attention. Now that AI used inflammatory language, it has made headlines and forced the issue onto the public's radar.

Sidereal,

This isn't the first time I've heard this assertion, but I haven't seen any evidence for it. Anecdotally, it seems to me that significantly more attention has been paid by the general public to the Guantanamo situation since AI's report. You may not like it, but can you argue against it?

D-P-U,

Was AI's use of moderate language in last year's report causing the closure of Gitmo and result in the current administration completely gutting and rewritint their detainee procedures? Was the IRC's moderate tone putting the pressure on?

What I described is a long-term strategy, that builds strong support. The contrast between Martin Luther King and his critics is what won over those who otherwise would have never considered what he had to say.

So Gitmo is in the news? Please! This argument about Amnesty is in the news, not Gitmo. I don't know if you've noticed or not, but the numbers of posts on this subject here keeps on climbing, and everyone's attempt to change the subject to be exclusively Gitmo is an abyssmal failure. So much for that idea!

Furthermore, given that my fellow liberals are so prone to rightly complain about the level of political discourse, take a look in the mirror. You all now think the aggressive, intellectually dishonest demagoguery is what wins the day. It's not. Those who have done that kept their opponents - both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush - in the White House.

"Furthermore, given that my fellow liberals are so prone to rightly complain about the level of political discourse, take a look in the mirror. You all now think the aggressive, intellectually dishonest demagoguery is what wins the day."

Rather a strong generalization. "All"? Is that an example of intellectually honest non-demagoguery?

Edward, on the rare occasions when I agree with your opinion and say, I shall consider that a poisoning as well.

It's not pointing out that you agree with it that makes it an example of "poisoning the well" Charles...it's telling Sebastian what to conclude about it before he's read it for himself. It's an old debate term...not an insult toward you. I thought it would make you chuckle. my bad.

Gary,

Rather a strong generalization. "All"? Is that an example of intellectually honest non-demagoguery?

You caught me - not all, of course. My language has been becoming so excessively conditional that I'm pushing back a little against it. I mean that in that "you all" idiomatic way.

Dantheman,
No the pressure doesn’t exist because (apart from the innocent people swept into the detention centers) most people have little sympathy for anybody who’s fellow travelers kidnap civilians and saw their heads off for the evening news.

Anderson,
Yes, a mistreated, attractive, middle class, white woman does generate sure media. It could be most people shrug off the detainees because of prejudice but I don’t see the world along racial or class lines. It is likely most Americans aren’t bothered by it because the people the detainees are associated with are some bad dudes.

True, the situation as is doesn’t allow for an effective, independent investigations. But I was thinking about the ones the military has already cleared and released.

Mistreatment for mistreatments sake is wrong. However, if the detainees are perceived to be dangerous men who will strike us upon their release, or acquitted in a trial. then I’m sure you can understand why many people would turn a blind eye. Not the most noble of attitudes of course but I find it realistic.

Sulla: most people have little sympathy for anybody who’s fellow travelers kidnap civilians and saw their heads off for the evening news.

And part of the problem is that no one has properly explained to the majority of Americans (certainly Bush & Co have either lied about it or ignored it, when speaking about Guantanamo Bay) that there has been no procedure to discover if prisoners sent to Guantanamo Bay, or indeed any other part of the American gulag archipelago, are in fact in any way connected with the vile people who kidnap civilians and saw their heads off for the evening news.

Further, American soldiers have kidnapped civilians, Sulla, and have tortured them to death. That they do not do so "for the evening news" does not make their crime less vile: it merely makes it less public.

"The contrast between Martin Luther King and his critics is what won over those who otherwise would have never considered what he had to say."

Interesting contrast.

These children-unoffending, innocent, and beautiful-were the victims of one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity.

And yet they died nobly. They are the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity. And so this afternoon in a real sense they have something to say to each of us in their death. They have something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows. They have something to say to every politician who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism.

or this

First, there is need for strong, aggressive leadership from the federal government. So far, only the judicial branch of the government has evinced this quality of leadership. If the executive and legislative branches of the government were as concerned about the protection of our citizenship rights as the federal courts have been, then the transition from a segregated to an integrated society would be infinitely smoother. But we so often look to Washington in vain for this concern. In the midst of the tragic breakdown of law and order, the executive branch of the government is all too silent and apathetic. In the midst of the desperate need for civil rights legislation, the legislative branch of the government is all too stagnant and hypocritical.

This dearth of positive leadership from the federal government is not confined to one particular political party. Both political parties have betrayed the cause of justice. (Oh yes) The Democrats have betrayed it by capitulating to the prejudices and undemocratic practices of the southern Dixiecrats. The Republicans have betrayed it by capitulating to the blatant hypocrisy of right wing, reactionary northerners. These men so often have a high blood pressure of words and an anemia of deeds. [laughter]

Dr. King was no stranger to metaphor and strong rhetoric. What would you think, 42 years ago, about anyone who responded to the rhetoric of Dr. King's eulogy with 'OMG, he's too confrontational! or 'Hey, it's a eulogy, it's not appropriate to talk about politics!'. You'd think they were an ass, that's what you'd think. Because you would know that the cause is just, and that's what matters, and that's what will decide whether you win people to your cause or not.

"Not the most noble of attitudes of course but I find it realistic."

And part of the responsbility of being a good person is lifting peoples' eyes from the realistic to the noble, and not spitting on those who are attempting it in your absence.

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