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June 01, 2005

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I think it's quite clear that addressing AI's concerns directly is the point. As other respected human rights groups are now saying publically...

HRW's Brody echoed that view. ''What is sad is that this effort at damage control may work in the U.S.,'' he said, ''but unless the administration addresses the real issues of concern -- torture, rendition, disappearances, systematic humiliation of Muslim prisoners -- then the U.S. image in the world will continue to erode.''

AI's concerns directly is the point

That should read: "not the point"

(This latter point accounts for the discussion of the US in the report's Foreward...

I see von's affliction is contagious...

Oh, jeez. Foreword. Foreword. Foreword.

On-topic: I'm particularly interested in responses that touch upon this, the culmination and entire point of the five paragraphs talking about Gitmo:

The USA, as the unrivalled political, military and economic hyper-power, sets the tone for governmental behaviour worldwide. When the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights, it grants a licence to others to commit abuse with impunity and audacity. From Israel to Uzbekistan, Egypt to Nepal, governments have openly defied human rights and international humanitarian law in the name of national security and “counter-terrorism”. [Emph mine.]

But if one accepts this principle, then it's hard for me to see why both the administration and those who focus on Amnesty's use of the word 'gulag' do not also have a "moral focus that is utterly out of whack"

And not only those who focus on use of the word "gulag," but those who focus on claiming that countries V, W, X, Y and Z are all way worse anyway. Which von claims not to see anyone doing, then goes on to do himself, repeatedly. That's more morally-out-of-whack to me than anything else.

I will say this: Anyone who ever carried the administration's water on the "imminent threat" issue, and argued that despite all the mushroom cloud, instantly deployable, near-certain-NBC-attacks-on-our-soldiers talk, etc., that nobody ever said the words "imment threat," has absolutely no credibility with me on this whole "gulag" issue. Zero.

Yes, yes, yes. Exactly. Spot on.

Thank you!

Semi-tangentially: I have a burning desire to use the phrase "ontologically closed" but I'm not 100% sure that it means what I think it means. O thou great Philosopher, hilzoy, could you provide maybe a two-line summary? [Further supplication available on request.]

Well, I should not presume...but two analogies might be in the Patriot Act and the Schiavo Incident. There are dangerous clauses in the Patriot Act, and there have been abuses, even what I consider official abuses, but the abuse have not been widespread or accelerating. Similiarly in the Schiavo Incident, the Congressional override of a court decision was a bad thing and a bad precedent, but I am not seeing constant and whimsical abuse of this power.

On the other hand, torture, internment, etc are common and ordinary tools of regimes like NK and SA. There is a difference between using extraordinary measures in extraordinary circumstances, recognizing them as necessary and temporary sacrifices of honor and integrity; and viewing human rights violations as everyday tools of state policy.

However, to mention as an example the treatment last week of the Sunni political figure in Iraq, I do think abuses are a much more common and accepted policy than my opponents care to admit.

Ontologically closed?? No idea. I understand 'ontological': concerning what there is. (Suppose we agree that things like tables really exist; do numbers? Moral values? Fictional characters in actual novels? Etc.) I understand 'closed under logical implication': a theory is closed under logical implication if any claim that is a logical consequence of some claim(s) in the theory is itself in the theory. But what's 'ontologically closed'? Is it supposed to be: if some object's existence is required by some claim(s) in a theory, then that theory posits the existence of that object?

A long way of saying: you got me. I should also say: the definitions were less for you (I assume you know what closed under l.i. is, for instance) than for the benefit of others.

But what's 'ontologically closed'? Is it supposed to be: if some object's existence is required by some claim(s) in a theory, then that theory posits the existence of that object?

More or less, I think. As I understand it, a theory is ontologically closed if it specifies at the outset some number of entities (or, more generally, atomic concepts) coupled with a notion of inference such that no additional entities can be proven to exist in that system.* Solipsism is ontologically closed, somewhat trivially; many kinds of fundamentalism are ontologically closed, since they do not admit arguments that might disprove the existence or specifics of their favored deity; the scientific method, chartered as a philosophy, is an ontologically open system par excellence.

[As a technical aside: this reminds me somewhat of category theory in that what's important isn't so much the originally postulated entities/concepts but the fact that the methods of inference -- i.e. the means of travelling from one entity/concept to another -- must also be codified.]

In the broader context, I've also heard it used of, say, bridge or chess since, theoretically at least, you don't need to know anything beyond the pieces used in the game to determine your strategy. Poker, OTOH, isn't ontologically closed because it crucially requires an understanding of the psychology of your opponents, something that cannot be covered by the mere rules of the game. I'm not quite sure how to tweak that into a manageable definition, though.

Does all this sound about right to you?

* It might be better to phrase that in modal terms: no additional entities can be proven to be necessary.

If I can read Von's mind for a moment, I'd like to reverse the polarity of the argument. It seems his complaint is similar to the gripe (that I can sympathize with) that Bush is using news cycles and political capital on Social Security when Medicare is by far the worse problem. That doesn't make one an apologist for Social Security, just a person with some sense of perspective about the big picture.
To stretch the analogy further, Bush may be doing so because he thinks the mood is right to get a change in SS while health care is still untouchable.
And the coup de grace is that he won't have any effect on either because he's wrong about how much power he has.
Ok, fun with analogies over and apologies to Von if I tracked any mud in that wonderful mind of his.

Thus, one might think, if I were responding to the AI report, it would be OK for me to focus on American violations rather than those that occur in some distant country whose policies I cannot affect

Glen Wishard remembers when AI "Members did not address letters to their own governments. The point was objective devotion to simple common principles, and politics was right out of it."

He also cites Moynihan's law:

"The number of human rights complaints against a country is inversely proportional to the number of abuses they actually commit"

DaveC: He also says "AI does not support or oppose any government", except when it comes to supporting Saddam Hussein's personal ownership of Iraq... which is, um, kinda counterfactual.

slightly OT: the fact that an "I" (upper case 'i') looks nearly exactly like an "l" (lower case 'L'), has made me think, at least a dozen times, that i'm reading stories about someone named "Al".

"...Glen Wishard remembers when AI 'Members did not address letters to their own governments.'"

When did AI change this policy? Cite? Forgive me if I don't accept a cite of some guy I've never heard of who wrote a fairly incoherent piece whose point seems to be that when he noticed rock stars supporting AI, he had to stop supporting AI, for reasons unstated, but presumably self-evident to someone on the same drugs he is. (And he can't tell Bruce Springsteen from Rick Springfield, so he clearly has expert knowledge of rock music, as well.)

DaveC, respectfully, why is it you seemingly so frequently pick completely unknown sources, seemingly at random because you happened to read them that day (perhaps not, of course, and you have some other method of selection), as "cites," as if they were, you know, reputable? Why should anyone care what this incoherent bozo thinks?

Glen Wishard's assertion that he was an Amnesty International member seems to be contradicted by statements like this.

Since when is Amnesia International an authority on law enforcement and crowd control techniques? Did the US Marshals Office mail them a pamphlet or something? Posted by: Glen Wishard at April 17, 2003 08:44 PM
link

or this

Amnesia International appears to be using this war as a pretext to demolish what’s left of its own credibility.

I think they’re sorry that they issued reports on human rights abuses in Iraq. They should have included a disclaimer: THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION IS FOR EDUCATIONAL AND ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY.

Posted by: Glen Wishard at March 29, 2003 09:38 PM


link

'amnesia international' seems to be rather ironic in this light. I realize that it is a cute setup to his punchline, but it seems that fair and enlightened debate would require a certain amount of honesty. If he honestly felt that writing letters was a waste of time, I have a hard time understanding why he would do it. Perhaps he was young and naive and is now worldly and wise. Somehow, I doubt it.

Heaven forfend that the rich and powerful in this country attempt to do something positive with the disproportionate amount of attention paid to them by the media and consumers, therefore pushing out the focus on the really important people like Glen "Who?" Wishard.

Just to preempt your coming scurrilous post on "Krakatoa", Hilzoy:

How dare you compare that eruption to nuclear winter or, God help us, global warming when everyone knows that a little nuclear winter and global warming might actually be a good thing, as long as it doesn't get out of hand? Besides, Krakatoa is a standard by which we judge all else. If it wasn't for precious Krakatoa, the world would be a mess of relativistic harmful events we might need to mitigate, without moral hierarchy, rather than say, a bunch of stuff we can ignore because we treasure Krakatoa so much.

And if you thought Krakatoa was so bad, what about that time the asteroid hit the Earth? Learn to love Krakatoa and look forw(a)rd to more of them. I certainly do.

"~"

Why should anyone care what this incoherent bozo thinks?

We incoherent bozos have to stick together :)

We incoherent bozos have to stick together

like boogers ?

(there's an implied :) on that last post, of course)

Hey just because I killed one of my neighbors I don't think it's fair or balanced to label me a killer. I'm no Jeffrey Dalmer or Hitler or anything. Those guys were "killers". And besides, I tell people all the time that I'm against killing...you know...unless it's absolutely necessary...like with my neighbor. Hey, he was potentially thinking about something or knew something that could have hurt me.

Could we say that the use of "gulag" in the AI report is actually a quintessentially American way of advertising expression, made acceptable by none other than the free market? It's learned behavior.

Like, say, the guy at the Ford dealership who claims Fords are the best, at least until he transfer over the Chevy dealership and then is required to expand the language to suit his ends; or like the small towns in Minnesota who advertise they feature the "largest Babe the Blue Ox in the world" and forget to mention the bigger one down the road next to the First Lutheran Bar and Grill; or say the wonderful adjectives thought up by Frank Luntz to make it appear that Democrats are dirt and Republicans are the source of all the milky goodness in the world.

The language has been emptied out like a vacuole, to be filled with our own chosen linguistic custard. It's going to end very badly, you know, because in the beginning was the wird, the wird was bird.

It's a fun game.

A couple points. As far as I know, the term "gulag" isn't in the AI report. The Secretary General of AI made that comment at a news conference about the report.

Did AI or any of its personnel say that the U.S. is the worst human rights offender in the world? I've heard that claim repeated several times, but I couldn't find any comparative language in the 2005 report. Nor could I find any record of an Amnesty staffer making that statement.

The gulag metaphor is perfectly acceptable. Obviously Bush hasn't committed genocide, as Stalin did. Nor has he interned a fraction of the number of people that Stalin imprisoned. However, as the AI report documents, the U.S. is establishing a global penal archipelago outside the rule of law--read what AI has to say about the countries where the US sends people to be tortured. This is a serious and recent development that should be emphasized in any comprehensive global human rights report.

The charges that AI is being relativist are bogus. The report is about the state of human rights in the world, with an emphasis on developments in the past year. It is a fact that the US is the only global superpower and that it is aggressively pursuing a war on terror and proclaiming itself outside the rule of law. Amnesty International would be remiss if it didn't comment at length on this phenomenon.

Claims that the AI report lacks outrage about other nations are simply false. I think a lot of people levying these charges have only read the introduction, and regional overviews. Even in those summary statements, Amnesty is sharply critical of many major human rights offenders. If you actually read the country by country summaries, the charges of relativism are transparently false.

AI isn't shy about calling genocide by its name, nor politically motivated famine, nor mass rape as weapon of war. The US isn't accused of any of those things. Which is good, because it's not guilty of any of the above, unlike some of the countries fingered by the AI report.

Every country gets roughly the same amount of ink in the AI report. For example Canada's 500-odd words deal mostly with domestic violence on Native reservations and the death of a single teenager at the hands of police. France gets a whole paragraph on the headscarf debacle. Serious problems, to be sure--but nothing close to the human rights abuses AI documents from Saudi Arabia, the USA, Sudan, North Korea, or any of the other major human rights offenders.

Someone with an axe to grind might claim that giving every country roughly the same amount of space equates the record of one nation with that of others. That's simply nonsense. AI doesn't make those kinds of comparisons. Sensitive people may feel as if they're being equated, but their feelings aren't based on a charitable reading of the report in full.

France gets a whole paragraph on the headscarf debacle.

... and for me, that demonstrates why I'm disappointed with Amnesty. With their limited time and resources, there is no way they can make a difference where it matters if they're wasting time criticizing France's completely ridiculous headscarf law.

And they're predictably partisan when picking these inconsequential violations in Western countries, as Amnesty does not seem to care about how " hate speech" laws are eroding free speech in many of them. And if Amnesty is now in the nitpicking business, it seems to me they would have mentioned that as well.

(I am not implying that the charges against US actions are nitpicking, btw.)

Lindsay -
Check the foreword, where the secretary general calls guantanamo "the gulag of the modern world." She did say it - and everybody's put-on umbrage has been one of the most pathetic spectacles I have seen in the blogosphere.

Especially funny is the mandatory boilerplate "Sure, hey, I'm against torture, as can be seen here and here, but this AI report is an unbalanced liberal travesty!" Come the f**k on. What's the big scandal, that AI is a liberal group? Wow, Scoop, did you figure that one out all by yourself? I mean, I'm happy to see the newfound concern over human rights on the Right, but let's not kid ourselves. When AI condemned Apartheid, its reports blasted the Reagan administration for its support. When AI reported on the El Salvadoran death squads and the generations of South American desaparecidos, it was harshly critical of the Republican administrations that supported and paid for the kleptocratic mass murderers in power down there.

AI is and always has been a leftist group. Wonder why that is?

OK, hilzoy, I'll step up to your challenge, but in bite-sized chunks since I only have small blocks of time available.

OK, so Amnesty's use of the word "gulag" was unfortunate and over the top. So what?

Your reaction is not too different from Edward's, who thought it was "splitting hairs over what constitutes a gulag in comparison to what occurs in Guantanamo." This is not a "so what" or "splitting hairs" issue. At all. This is critically important. When someone deliberately evokes images of a totalitarian government's operation of forcibly relocating its citizens to slave labor camps and starving and killing them by the millions, and then she morally equates those atrocities to the imprisonment of a few hundred combatants (yes, I know some dispute that assertion), it's a big deal and it calls into question the judgment and perspective of the leadership for making such ludicrous statements.

This is no different than the extremists who made no moral distinctions between the Bush administration and Nazi Germany. It's Godwin's Law all over again, except Nazis are replaced with Soviet communists. In either case, this excessive rhetoric is irresponsible and wrong and juvenile. That this organization is reportedly non-partisan makes these absurd statements even worse, especially when they purport to uphold the UDoHR for every person on earth. Austin Bay is a member of AI and this is part of what he had to say:

Amnesty’s current leadership inhabits a self-referential echo chamber, and over the next few months will find that there is such a thing as bad publicity, particularly when an organization relies on “moral principles and human rights” An organization with genuine moral principles and genuine respect for human rights must be able to distinguish between scattered crime and focused genocide, between criminal actions at Abu Ghraib and Gitmo (on the one hand) and 9/11, the Taliban, Bali, Saddam, suicide bombers (etc) on the other. Koran flushing? Does anyone remember the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddas of Bubiyan? Does Amnesty? Amnesty has cheapened the language of suffering, and for an organization espousing Amnesty’s principles, this is a grievous error.
Bay is being kind. Roger L. Simon:
President Bush dismissed this as "absurd," but it is more than that. It borders on the psychologically dysfunctional. Many millions of people died in Stalin's Gulag, thought by some to have been even more lethal than Hitler's death camps. To have any equivalence the United States would have had to deliberately exterminate the population of Cuba - or at least make a serious attempt.
Why would an organization with a long history of good works descend to this? Why would they so impulsively risk their hard-earned credibility for such a stupid political cheap shot?

Yes, I'm aware that Khan's provocative language is in the foreward, but where is the foreward? Right in front, right below the link to the cover page. The Secretary General wrote the foreward, wanting readers to know what she thought was the very most important information to be gleaned from their lengthy study of 149 countries. That most critical information, in her mind, the information that motivated her to name names, centered on the United States, followed by Sudan and it's ongoing genocide. That's right. The genocide in Sudan (tens of thousands murdered and hundreds of thousands uprooted) is of lesser importance than a few hundred captive militants held by the US military. No other countries besides the US and Sudan were mentioned.

The summary boxes in the individual country reports list the UN Women's Convention and the Optional Protocol to the UNWC. That must be vitally important, right? After all, the box is prominently located, giving readers an immediate snapshot as to where these countries stand with AI. So why didn't Irene Khan bring up Saudi Arabia in her foreward? The female population is hardly better than personal property there and they have practically zero freedom. Non-Sunni males have it only slightly better. Again, where is the perspective here?

If this were Amnesty USA, that's one thing. But this is Amnesty International, and even in the foreward Ms. Khan brought up "the promises in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights treaties that every person shall have the right to an adequate standard of living and access to food, water, shelter, education, work and health care." Well, to Irene Khan and by extension Amnesty International, some people imprisoned are more important than millions upon millions of others.

I wrote earlier that this was a travesty, and it is. Instead of the focus being placed on the disadvantaged everywhere (including the US), AI made the issue about them, and now they're reaping what they sowed. Before someone comes up and calls me a dishonest evil and stupid hypocrite, let me say that I'll be writing a post specifically about our treatment of prisoners and detainees, and it won't be complimentary to the Bush administration and it won't be here.

This is critically important

riiiight. it's critically important. why, if AI had just called it "summer camp for bad boys" Bush and his supporters would have no choice but to come clean about their support for torture. but alas, they didn't and now it's all AI's fault.

are our hands clean now?

Rereading my comment above, I would like to withdraw the phrase "put-on" as a probable posting rules violation, and replace it with "high-decibel." Sorry for the intemperate implication.

St, I stand corrected. It's right there in the forward. Thanks.

Even so, the gulag simile is apt. It's a comparison, not a statement of identity or exact similarity. Please, spare me the "even using X as a metaphor cheapens the...blah, blah..." If someone compared the "free speech zones" at the DNC to the gulag, that would be in very poor taste. By contrast, calling the genocide in Bosnia "a holocaust" is appropriate, though not accurate to scale. 300,000 people died in the entire war, but likening the systematic eradication programs to those that killed 6 million Jews and countless others is perfectly reasonable.

Likening one superpower's international penal network outside the rule of law to another's infamous archipelago of illegal prisons is well within the bounds of acceptable rhetoric. (Especially when today's global superpower endorses torture and kidnapping as public policy and lies about it.)

Only someone astonishingly uncharitable and remarkably ignorant would even try to interpret the Secretary General's analogy at face value and condemn her on that basis.

I submit that nobody really did.

"It's right there in the forward."

As I said, a really common error.

Same old blame the messenger tactic. When AI bends in the slightest bit and apologises for using the very loaded "gulag" word, the supporters and apologists for the Bush administration will clamp onto that to avoid any discussion of the issue.

But AI should not apologise, as we have most certainly formed a gulag archipelago, in the sense that we are operating a secret prison system where people are tortured and held with no trial and no sentance.

That is the real crime and the real betrayal of American values. Attacking the messenger only helps provide cover for that crime.

Charles -- thanks for your comment. I may just read this differently than you, but I take a "gulag", in common language, to mean not something that is in all respects as bad as the Soviet gulag, but a string of camps where people are held without trial and without rights. As I said, I would not have used the word, but as I read it, it was not a claim of equivalence.

However, I am still at a loss as to the general principle according to which Amnesty's response is all wrong, and the administration's and yours are not wrong in the same way. (But probably this will come in a later bite.)

Since I don't get it -- and I am prepared to take this back as soon as I do -- I should say that this whole thing (combined with various similar "issues" raised on the right in the past) bothers me not just because it distracts from the much more serious issue of abuses at Guantanamo and elsewhere, but because it reminds me a lot of political correctness in the early '90s: people jumping all over other people for word choice that supposedly reveals all sorts of things about them, taking a response that would be perfectly appropriate in some cases (in this case, it would be appropriate to Ward Churchill; I think that the response used by the original PC people was perfectly appropriate to the approving use of e.g. 'bitch-slap') and having it to all sorts of other things, with wild abandon, and at the expense of much more serious issues. I didn't like it when my side did it (and yes, I did say that at the time, and called my students on it consistently when they tried to use it to dismiss arguments made by dead white males etc.), and I don't particularly care for it it now.

As I said, this is a response that hasn't taken into account your full response, and that I may end up happily retracting in light of it.

Glen Wishard remembers when AI "Members did not address letters to their own governments. The point was objective devotion to simple common principles, and politics was right out of it."

He's wrong. What AI member's did not work on were prisoner of conscience cases in their own country. AI's position regarding torture and the death penalty has always been absolutely unacceptable in all cases, accordingly it was entirely acceptable to involve yourself in actions that concerned these two issues in your own country. Also, when legislation dovetailed with AI's concerns we were encouraged to contact our elected officials. In 1985 several of us visited with a representative from then Senator D'amato's office about East Timor.

Full disclosure: from 1987 to 1996 I conducted new member orientations on a monthly basis at AIUSA's headquarters in New York. Every month for nearly ten years I went over AI's mandate and probably explained AI to over 3,000 interested parties, so I can assure you that when Mr. Wishard writes that "Members did not address letters to their own governments" he's not telling the full story or simply doesn't know the full story.

AI is and always has been a leftist group. Wonder why that is?

Did you know that William F. Buckley was once on the board of AIUSA, but left because of their position on the death penalty?

A modicum of research would have disclosed that fact.

The charges that AI is being relativist are bogus. The report is about the state of human rights in the world, with an emphasis on developments in the past year.

That last bit is a point worth mentioning. If more is written about the US's violations rather than North Korea or China, it may have a lot to do with the fact that the latter two have been addressed before, again and again, and have not changed. The US's slide into gulagism, arbitrarily imprisoning and torturing prisoners, represents a change, an escalation.

re: Buckley - Buckley left because his conservative beliefs couldn't be reconciled with a bedrock AI principle. Contradicts my point how? Oh, and as for your sniff about a "modicum of research," I am well aware that not everyone in the AI leaderships is or has always been a card-carrying fellow traveler. This does not change the fact that, in this country at least, AI has consistently stood with (or, to be fair, near) the political left, because . . . well, because the political right were often unconcerned by, or actively abetting, the very abuses AI described and condemned.

ST

Perhaps you can consider the hole you box yourself into when you speak in absolute terms like always. Sorry for the imperious tone before.

I agree with your last sentence, by the way. I also think it probably makes for some of the reason why Buckley left as well. He was never comfortable criticizing right-wing anti-communist dictators.

The US's slide into gulagism...

But AI should not apologise, as we have most certainly formed a gulag archipelago...

Even so, the gulag simile is apt.

The gulag metaphor is perfectly acceptable.

Note than when - and I'm sure they do - Amnesty calls the forced labor camps for hundreds of thousands political prisoners in North Korean "gulags" - what does that mean now?

Absolutely nothing, and a human rights organization shouldn't be in the habit of throwing this word around lightly. This bizarre and totally spontaneous redefinition of gulag can only mean that everyone just wants to use words as powerful as the disgust they feel about American misdeeds. That's perfectly understandable, but intellectually indefensible.

Okay, here's a fact related to human rights, but not involving AI that I would like to throw out there for the conservatives to respond to: Why do democrats outnumber republicans by a 2 to 1 margin on the Congressional Human Rights Caucus and have 56% of their house membership on the CHRC while the republicans have 24% of their house membership on the CHRC?

This bizarre and totally spontaneous redefinition of gulag can only mean that everyone just wants to use words as powerful as the disgust they feel about American misdeeds.

"Bizarre and totally spontaneous redefinition"? Hardly. I thought it was a poor word choice for any of a number of reasons, but Khan's usage was in accord with several dictionaries I've checked. For example, excerpted from the online OED:

1b. These camps and prisons collectively, both under the N.K.V.D. and subsequently; a prison camp, esp. one for political prisoners; hence transf., any place or political system in which the oppression and punishment of dissidents is institutionalized. Also in more general fig. use.

And the figurative use starts in the late 1970s, with such usage as

"He could have let Yeldell languish as chairman of the city's Board of Appeals and Review -- the bureaucratic Gulag to which the former Department of Human Resources director had been exiled." - Washington Post, 19 April 1977

You can argue that this is an inapt adoption of the term into English. You can argue that Irene Khan should have considered the full ramifications of the word more carefully. You can argue against hyperbole. You cannot, however, argue that this is a "bizarre and totally spontaneous redefinition" given that this usage is almost 30 years old; that, to steal your phrase, would be intellectually indefensible.

rp - point taken.

jc - This bizarre and totally spontaneous redefinition of gulag can only mean that everyone just wants to use words as powerful as the disgust they feel about American misdeeds. That's perfectly understandable, but intellectually indefensible.
As pointed out by many on several of these threads, the word gulag contains no mandatory component of scale.* The bizarre and totally predictable outrage over the use of the word "gulag" can only mean that conservatives react automatically and viscerally to the use of powerful negative words, or any expression of disgust at the Bush administration's actions, regardless of the justification or reasons given for such use. That's perfectly understandable, but intellectually indefensible.

* as someone pointed out in another thread, the term may, in fact be inaccurate as applied to Gitmo. Not because the word cannot apply to a system less extensive than the Soviet original, but rather because Gitmo is not a work camp, whereas a GULAG [G(lavnoe) U(pravlenie ispravitel'no-trudovykh) LAG(ere), or Chief Administration of Correctional Labor Camps] may definitionally require a forced labor component. But your beef seemed to be based on the belief that a single word cannot describe both a bigger and a smaller thing (despite the existence of both the rocks in my driveway and the Rock of Gibraltar).

Note than when - and I'm sure they do - Amnesty calls the forced labor camps for hundreds of thousands political prisoners in North Korean "gulags" - what does that mean now?

Now I'm on dialup doing it by memory, but in AI 's 35 entries for NK, there was mention of starvation, but not gulags.

(I'm probably mistaken - I'm not an expert on anything - this may be off topic - I need a macro to insert disclaimers, etc :)

Not that I could read thru all the 1200+ entries about the US, but my guess is that gulag is only mentioned in the fourword.

Anarch,

I think we're starting to argue for next to no reason. Hyperbole? Yes, precisely my point. You've documented a far more casual usage of gulag in the Washington Post - but that's a long way from saying a human rights organization should use it in such a tongue-in-cheek manner. To be ridiculously precise, perhaps I should say it's a redefinition of the usage of the word by serious and sober human rights advocates...

In addition, dissidents just isn't an appropriate word to use to describe the prisoners at Gitmo and elsewhere. Seems to be an unfortunate combination of completely innocent people, people guilty of nothing more than of being terrorist flunkies, and finally actual terrorists. The political-prisoner/dissident angle seems to me especially important when breaking out the gulag usage.

To be ridiculously precise, perhaps I should say it's a redefinition of the usage of the word by serious and sober human rights advocates...

I still contest that Khan's usage was a redefinition of the term, but I agree that it was too imprecise a use of the term for serious and sober human rights advocates. Sound good?

In addition, dissidents just isn't an appropriate word to use to describe the prisoners at Gitmo and elsewhere. Seems to be an unfortunate combination of completely innocent people, people guilty of nothing more than of being terrorist flunkies, and finally actual terrorists.

Fair enough. st's point above is also well-taken (and is one of my main beefs with the term), namely that "gulag" usually carries with it a component of forced labor that's notably lacking at Gitmo and other places.

ST,

But your beef seemed to be based on the belief that a single word cannot describe both a bigger and a smaller thing (despite the existence of both the rocks in my driveway and the Rock of Gibraltar).

That's not my beef, sir! I'm saying the situation in North Korea meets nearly any possible Gulag criteria all at once - not merely scale, but who is there and why, how they are treated, forced labor, etc. And needless to say that's a good time to use the word, as it is perfectly apt. Gitmo? Sorry, absolutely not. Hell, it's got it's own name with a bad human rights reputation - Gitmo.

"1b. These camps and prisons collectively, both under the N.K.V.D. and subsequently; a prison camp, esp. one for political prisoners; hence transf., any place or political system in which the oppression and punishment of dissidents is institutionalized. Also in more general fig. use."

Because I am persnickety, and not because I want to fuss over usage as a means of obfuscating torture or Our System, I will note that although the last clause there pretty much gives an out to call anything a "gulag," the rest of the cited definition clearly refers to the use of camps to keep domestic political dissidents, for purposes of general societal political repression, not to camps used, however wrongfully in however many ways, to keep foreign citizens deemed, however wrongfully, to be a military threat.

Having said that, I have nothing further to add about the fine topic of Artificial Intelligence.

I don't want to know exactly where Khalid Sheikh Muhhamed is being kept, and how he is being treated. I don't want the New York Times to know. I don't want top Al Qaeda operatives to know. I don't want some Lynne Stewart type lawyer to know. I'll accept this as a moral failure on my part (really). I'm not asking for perfection, and I know the slippery slope problems involved. I just want those AQ and Baath guys utterly defeated.

"st's point above is also well-taken (and is one of my main beefs with the term), namely that 'gulag' usually carries with it a component of forced labor that's notably lacking at Gitmo and other places."

Still thinkiing it might have been well-taken when I brought it up a week ago here, with my cite from Anne Applebaum, before AI came out with their report, let alone anyone had commented on that, but when someone here had merely tossed out the term. Just saying.

"I don't want to know exactly where Khalid Sheikh Muhhamed is being kept, and how he is being treated. I don't want the New York Times to know. I don't want top Al Qaeda operatives to know. I don't want some Lynne Stewart type lawyer to know."

That's fine, DaveC, but how about if somehow it's your sister-in-law or nephew that's accidentally picked up and disappeared into the system?

As Jim Henley has noted, posing the question of whether one believes a "terrorist" should or should not be tortured isn't the relevant question; it's whether you believe you should or should not be tortured if suspected. Because the whole point is that there's no infallible way to only pick out "terrorists." That's the difference between, say, reality and tv. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (I kinda have the idea that "trust the big government to always get it right" is not a famous conservative sentiment; did I get that wrong?)

Anarch,

I still contest that Khan's usage was a redefinition of the term, but I agree that it was too imprecise a use of the term for serious and sober human rights advocates. Sound good?

Sounds great, I agree completely!

Well, DaveC, suppose some "Lynne Stewart type lawyer" is defending a client charged with some kind of crime, and suppose the primary evidence is a statement obtained from KSM under torture. Isn't the jury/judge or other person who supposed to measure the credibility of the government's evidence against the denials of the defendant entitled to know the circumstances under which the statement was obtained? Maybe to ask KSM if it's an accurate transcription? Maybe ask if it's true, given the fact that people say all kinds of stuff under torture?

If the choice, DaveC, is between (a) allowing people who need the information (the lawyers and the factfinders, not necessarily the NYT) to learn it, or (b) letting the defendant go free, which imperfect way do you go?

Why, really, is some schmoe from Bahrain who tramped around Afghanistan for 3 months, never fired his weapon at anyone, was caught in Pakistan months after fleeing the US invasion entitled to less in the way of due process than what we as a society accord Charlie Manson? Who's more dangerous?

Still thinkiing it might have been well-taken when I brought it up a week ago here, with my cite from Anne Applebaum, before AI came out with their report, let alone anyone had commented on that, but when someone here had merely tossed out the term. Just saying.
emphasis mine

Gary,
given your well-known concern for accuracy at every level of detail, you may want to check
here , here , and here.

Just saying.

Sorry, Gary; I knew I had seen it somewhere. I gave as much credit as I could muster given the late hour and my own unwillingness to sift through five threads worth of this stupid argument.

jc - okay, sir, so the NK camps more precisely fit the historical definition of "gulag;" does that make the incredible screeching volume of the right's outrage justified? Does the use of that word in the foreword completely strip AI of its moral force? Of course not. That is the truly indefensible position; that AI is just another untrustable pack of Bush-haters because it used strong language to describe something it felt, unsurprisingly, very strongly about. AI believes that America's use of torture and "ghost detention" has set an incredibly damaging precedent, and cites examples to show that other nations are now justifying their own repression by citing our practices. You may constructively disagree with that thesis, presenting counter-arguments and such, but instead, what we are getting from you guys is this empty, self-righteous semantic dudgeon. Too bad.

You may constructively disagree with that thesis, presenting counter-arguments and such, but instead, what we are getting from you guys is this empty, self-righteous semantic dudgeon. Too bad.

I can't figure out what you're screeding at, but for the record I'm fairly sure Jonas doesn't count as "you guys" no matter how you meant the term.

Still thinkiing it might have been well-taken when I brought it up a week ago here... Just saying.

It's awfully precarious up there on that cross, Gary. Would you like me to give you some nails?

LJ, thanks. Yes, Nell first used the term "gulag" here on May 25, 2005 09:15 PM in the "Did Newsweek Make a Mistake?" thread.

st says: "You may constructively disagree with that thesis, presenting counter-arguments and such, but instead, what we are getting from you guys is this empty, self-righteous semantic dudgeon."

Is Jonas Cord actually one of the "you guys" engaging in such empty dudgeon? (Fortunately, self-righteousness is so rarely found here on anyone's part, including my own; it's certainly only found on one side of any question.) (In case anyone is confused: the previous statement was not actually meant in straightforward fashion.)

"Would you like me to give you some nails?"

Only if you never have a cough again.

Well, DaveC, suppose some "Lynne Stewart type lawyer" is defending a client charged with some kind of crime

Take my comment as some cautionary advice about what could go wrong.

As far as I am concerned, David Hicks is clearly a terrorist sympathizer. He voluntarily went to Afghanistan after 9/11 to fight the US. There is no reason whatsoever to assume that he would not fight for the terrorists if released.

That's fine, DaveC, but how about if somehow it's your sister-in-law or nephew that's accidentally picked up and disappeared into the system?

I fully recognize the unfairness of this, and as I stated before, I realize that I am personally taking what can be considered an immoral and unethical stance by not assuming innocence instead of guilt. But trust me, I'm a really flawed person and I accept that tragic and terrible things are done by my government in what I consider a very real war for our very survival as a culture and country. If I could pay for those copies of "Trout Fishing in America" and "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail" that I stuffed down my pants years ago, I suppose I would, but the Jacksonville library system didn't deign me worthy of a library card. In a similar way, the world does not consider the US point of view about Islamic terrorism to be valid, so I suppose we are outlaws according to those who have no bad things to say about Kim Jung Il, Robert Mugabe, Castro, and Ayatollah Khamaini.


...very real war for our very survival as a culture and country...

WTF.

Unfortunately, I think this is a very common sentiment, and not just in the Right Wing sphere. Something like it is at the root of all these "a-little-torture-is-ok" apologies, but it just doesn't make any damn sense.

Sure, terrorists can make us bleed, but destroy our nation? Our culture? How? This is impossibly fuzzy thinking. Even if it were true that they simply Hate Our Freedom and have as their goal our utter destruction, what could their strategy possibly be? So far it resembles only the classic:

  1. First we bomb them.
  2. ...
  3. Then we win.

That one certainly hasn't turned out very well for anyone else. In fact, if we hadn't cooperated and let them pin down the bulk of our military in a perfect asymmetric warfare scenario, it wouldn't even be going anywhere near as well for them as it is...

Suppose absolute worst case scenarios like daily bombings in US cities, nuclear detonations, or improbably successful bio-weapon attacks. Do you really think the US would just dissolve? I think our nation is more robust than that.

If the culture we're trying to protect is built around noble virtues like freedom and justice, then which is really the more perilous: a handful of suicidal hijackers, or the precedent of abandoning our principles as soon as the going gets a little rough?

Jonas: In addition, dissidents just isn't an appropriate word to use to describe the prisoners at Gitmo and elsewhere. Seems to be an unfortunate combination of completely innocent people, people guilty of nothing more than of being terrorist flunkies, and finally actual terrorists.

As I've (ahem) repeatedly mentioned, I am (very slowly) reading The Gulag Archipelago. It's a book I've been meaning to get hold of and read for a long time, and I actually started reading it before the right-wing tempest about AI using the word gulag to describe the US's archipelago of prisons where people are held without due process, because (a) it's smaller that the Soviet archipelago (b) it includes no forced-labor component (c) it's mean and nasty for Amnesty International to say anything at all rude about the US or attempt to hold it to a higher standard than other countries.

What struck me from the early chapters where Solzhenitzyn describes how people destined for the gulag were arrested and processed, was how similiar the US's methods have been for filling the archipelago of prisons such as Guantanamo Bay, Bagram Airbase, Abu Ghraib.

People ended up in Guantanamo Bay for political reasons. Not because they themselves were necessarily terrorists, or dissidents, or "illegal combatants" (Charles Bird has said that he thinks the US military should not be required to obey the Geneva Convention in means of determining if someone is a POW or an "illegal combatant", though he does think other national militaries should be so required) but because of American politics, national and international.

As Solzhenitzyn describes, one need not have done anything remotely justifying arrest to end up in a gulag: being arrested is enough, and any excuse will do, including simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As Charles Bird has frequently asserted, simply being arrested is then sufficient to assume guilt (he has frequently said that all the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay are al-Qaeda, and as he has repeatedly refused to say how he knows this, we can fairly assume that he "knows" this because they are in Guantanamo Bay - they were sent there, so they must be guilty): the interrogator's task is not to discover if the prisoner is guilty, but to determine what the prisoner can be found guilty of, by torture if the prisoner won't confess.

In this respect (and I believe it to be the most important aspect of a gulag) the American archipelago of prisons is indeed a gulag for our times. Your list of the kind of people who might end up in the American gulag is really not much different from the kind of people who might end up in the Soviet gulag, except in scale.

Jesurgislac,

Thanks for your commentary on "The Gulag Archipelago." I'm going to have to read it now when I get my copy out of the moving boxes in my garage.

"[T]he interrogator's task is not to discover if the prisoner is guilty, but to determine what the prisoner can be found guilty of, by torture if the prisoner won't confess."

This was exactly the impression I got from Maj. Gen Dunlavey's request to apply more intense techniques at Gitmo.

I don't mean to rag on anyone here, but since I profess to being a linguist, I would point out that the following test suggests that secrecy is a necessary and perhaps sufficient component for labeling something a gulag, while forced labor is not. If I were to say 'that's a forced labor gulag', I don't think that this would sound strange, however, if I said 'that's a secret gulag', I think it sounds like a bizarre collocation, in part because the term gulag necessarily represents secret arbitrary imprisonment.

I would also point out that the phrase used was 'the gulag of our times'. If I were to say that some person were the Topo Gigio of our times, you wouldn't really have much recourse to say, no, he's not Topo Gigio. (though you might say who is Topo Gigio).

I realize this should have been posted a long time ago, but the example just came to me.

This may be relevant here. From the WP letters page at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/01/AR2005060101674.html

The May 26 editorial chastised Amnesty International for drawing parallels between the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and the Soviet gulags. It noted that the size and scale of the facilities do not compare, nor does the frequency of human rights abuse. Points taken. But as a former Foreign Service officer who monitored Soviet prison abuse from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and Vietnamese abuse of prisoners in its "gulag" from the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, I note that abuses that I reported on in those inhumane systems parallel abuses reported in Guantanamo, at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan and at the Abu Ghraib prison: prisoners suspended from the ceiling and beaten to death; widespread "waterboarding"; prisoners "disappeared" to preclude monitoring by the International Committee of the Red Cross -- and all with almost no senior-level accountability.

I am dismayed to find any such similarities with previous gulags.

EDMUND McWILLIAMS

DaveC, I know who Lynne Stewart is. You avoided my question, though. You don't want people to know the government's secrets, I get it. Are you prepared to face the inevitable consequence which is the release of people you might rather were not released?

Or are you so scared of the terrorists that you would help them advance their cause by overreacting and waging your own jihad.

This is not a struggle for the hearts and minds of Idaho. It is absolutely essential that ordinary people in places like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, etc, see the US as a force for good. We'll never win everyone, but we can win enough people so that groups like AQ cannot operate.

In this struggle, 'F*ck Yeah-ism' (I wish there was a better word for it) is deadly. If the major fuel for AQ is humiliation and perceived humiliation, killing taxidrivers, locking away foot-soldiers w/o trial, calling the non-dangerous people who've already been released liars -- these are all deeply counterproductive. And even worse than the individual incidents is the chorus of approval that follows their revelation -- to take the example given above, suppose not only that it's your sister who arrested, but suppose that your attempts to get justice are met by a whole society saying 'well, even if she didn't deserve this individually, you people are such scum that doing this to her is OK.'

I want us to win the war. I can't understand why so many people act as if they care more about feeling good about themselves in the short run than they do about winning the war in the long run.

I'm a little torn over whether AI did themselves and the world a disservice by using the g-word and moving the focus OFF the important matters and onto nomenclature, or did themselves and the world a service by focusing more attention on Gitmo by that use. I'm a little surprised that the use of the world "child" to describe a 17-year-old wasn't in more dispute (in death penalty discussions), but I guess this just underscores where the sensitivity is, from both perspectives.

anarch, gf and jc - reviewing my comments, I see that they generate more heat than light, and may miss jc's point entirely. Sorry about that. For some reason, I have found this argument particularly irritating, and have reacted somewhat reflexively. I think I will put myself in timeout, and wait for the next tempest to roil the teapot.

lj - your point is a good one, but it breaks down - as Topo Gigio is a time-traveling mouse from the future, today's Topo Gigio may, in fact, be the original Topo Gigio. Makes more sense if you use Churchill or somebody like that.

What Jack Lecou said at 3:25 am. (Who the hell is awake at 3:25 am? Oh something to do with time zones you say? Ah.)

Look at Israel. There people have been living for years in daily fear of terrorist attack. Their society/culture has not dissolved and is not in immediate peril of dissolution. The only threat to US society/culture is from within -- and if we are so weak as to abandon liberty in favor of (illusory) security, that means to me that the society/culture wasn't worth much to begin with.

Slarti: I'm a little torn over whether AI did themselves and the world a disservice by using the g-word and moving the focus OFF the important matters and onto nomenclature, or did themselves and the world a service by focusing more attention on Gitmo by that use.

Good question. On the one hand, for at least some of the people attacking the AI report, the word "gulag" was clearly just an excuse - they wouldn't have liked AI talking about US human rights violations no matter what word was used.

On the other hand, because the word "gulag" was used, this may have annoyed a bunch of people who wouldn't have objected to a straightforward description and condemnation of US human rights violations, but found "gulag" too much to swallow.

On the gripping hand, the fact that the first group of people found it necessary to attack so hard and so viciously had nothing directly to do with the word "gulag", but with the attention being focussed on the Amnesty International report; the more people looking at it, the more they want those people to be looking at a tiny and irrelevant detail, rather than the detailed report on the US. So the massive attack on the word "gulag" may actually be an indicator of Amnesty International's success.

On the... oh, I've run out of hands. *falls out of tree*

Off-topic, but I'd love to see a thread devoted to discussing this. Quick summary: Ben Stein continues the postmortem rehabilitation of Nixon, then goes on to blame the Cambodian genocide on Mark Felt, Ben Bradlee, and Woodward and Bernstein. Good stuff.

As Jesurglisac point out, what strikes you when you read Solzhenitsin's book as the defining characteristic of the gulag is its extralegality and its separation from the rest of the world, which is implicit in the the very word 'Archipelago'.

Gitmo, Bagram, Abu Ghraib, and other places such as Navy briggs that the Bush admin. has deemed to be above the sea of the rule of law form such an archipelago.

The massive scale of the gulag disapeared after Stalin's death, but certainly not the gulag itself: it mutated from giant slave labour death camps to more superficially humane places to keep people to be arbitrarily 'removed from the circulation', most notably the Soviet psychiatric hospitals.


Jes has three hands (or is it four?).

Jes has three hands (or is it four?).

I'm thinking of Kilgore Trout's _Venus on a half shell_ and wondering about the possibility of a prehensile tail.

Are you suggesting Jes is a member of a different species entirely? It would explain a lot. :-)

And the US has its own psychiatric diagnoses for people who oppose torture.

I'm shocked, shocked I tell you, that no one remembers The Mote In God's Eye. Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle produced much trash, but this was worth reading.

I have been reading the AI threads and brooding; I feel like I have something to say but the swirling emotions make it difficult to put into words: disappointment with both AI and some of its attackers here (for whom I feel some respect), disgust and anger at the wrongs committed by our country, regret for what our country has come to represent, hope that this can be changed, flashes of despair when I think it can't.

Others have already written much of my thinking: that the administration would have attacked AI fiercely regardless of AI's phrasing and emphasis, that Dick Cheney is dishonest (no, really??), that the attack on the messenger is a deliberate strategy to discredit opponents.

I have deep respect for those right-side voices who have written here, decrying the torture and abuse. To me, though, jumping on AI for the sin of saying "gulag," or continuing to write that Newsweek is to blame for the deaths in the riots in Afghanistan, seems like a symptom of severe cognitive dissonance.

I did not want to believe that our government could so lose its moral compass to countenance the abuses for which evidence continues to mount. Besides the fact that it's just wrong, we've already had the discussion about how bad it is for our own security, how counterproductive it is.

I have come to the conclusion that President Bush simply doesn't care, that whatever abuses we've committed are outweighed in his mind by the good he thinks we're doing. He is not a deep thinker. The deep thinkers here face a more difficult task reconciling these conflicting facts.

[Jes, I remember that book strongly. Yes, it's a good one.]

I accept that tragic and terrible things are done by my government in what I consider a very real war for our very survival as a culture and country.

I'm persuaded otherwise. The war on terror is just as fake as the war on drugs and the war on crime and the harm our government is doing to our citizens by pursuing these fake wars is much more significant than any trivial accomplishments of these fake wars. It is undermining our culture and country and destroying our rights. If you want to save our country, don't let them distract you by buying into their fake wars, don't give up your rights for some illusory safety, don't believe things just because the government says so. Don't ignore the criticisms of the Red Cross, Amnesty International, or others just because the Administration doesn't want to hear about these crimes committed in our name. Don't buy newspeak. Don't let them control the memory hole.

Based on our experience, you must realize that you can no longer accept any claims that Scott McClellan or any other Administration spokespeople make. Based on our experience, we have learned that the USA PATRIOT Act was neither patriotic nor did it protect the USA. Based on our experience, the worst possible decision available is to do what this Administration asks us to do.

Yes, there is metaphorically a war for the survival of the culture of this country, but you really need to pay attention to which side the Administration is on.

If the culture we're trying to protect is built around noble virtues like freedom and justice, then which is really the more perilous: a handful of suicidal hijackers, or the precedent of abandoning our principles as soon as the going gets a little rough?

Posted by: Jack Lecou | June 2, 2005 12:25 AM

First off,...amen brother.

Second, there seems to be a lot of paranoid and scared folks on The Right...their trying to act tough, but boy can the world smell the paranoid fear comming from America.

"The Rock of Liberty" sure gets limp in the face of fear.

This is not a "so what" or "splitting hairs" issue. At all. This is critically important. When someone deliberately evokes images of a totalitarian government's operation of forcibly relocating its citizens to slave labor camps and starving and killing them by the millions, ... etc.

You know, there have been a number of intelligent responses to this point, defending the choice of term or arguing that it's unimportant, and you haven't actually responded to them. You've just repeated yourself.

That most critical information, in her mind, the information that motivated her to name names, centered on the United States, followed by Sudan and it's ongoing genocide. That's right. The genocide in Sudan (tens of thousands murdered and hundreds of thousands uprooted) is of lesser importance than a few hundred captive militants held by the US military.

First sentence of the foreword: "Last September in a makeshift camp outside El Jeniena in Darfur, Sudan, I listened to a woman describe the attack on her village by government-supported militia."

So why didn't Irene Khan bring up Saudi Arabia in her foreward?

Well, what recent developments there do you think should've been mentioned in the foreword?

Well, to Irene Khan and by extension Amnesty International, some people imprisoned are more important than millions upon millions of others.

I'm not sure you're clear on what a foreword is. It is, by definition, short. It highlights certain things. So, you know, the vast majority of information doesn't get mentioned. For that, you can read the full report. The foreword highlights major recent developments, based on how many people they're directly affecting, how sharp a change it is from the previous status, what it's broader repercussions but be, e.g. precedent-setting potential, and maybe some other informal metrics.

You are hurling a bunch of accusations to create this picture of anti-American craziness or whatever, but most of the things you point out are not only explicable, they are explained by AI, some of them right in the foreword to the report.

Wanna argue more about AI and gulag? More fodder.

Solzhenitsyn. The man's name is spelled Solzhenitsyn, for crying out loud.

"I'm shocked, shocked I tell you, that no one remembers The Mote In God's Eye."

Um. First argued with the Dr. Dr. and met Larry in 1974; read various works of each in manuscript for various houses in subsequent years; did not read last few messages in this thread until now; we're separated by a 7-hour timezone difference. Conclude with Jesse Jackson's most famous line here.

"I would also point out that the phrase used was 'the gulag of our times'."

Indeed. The only way that the argument of those "offended" by AI's use of the word holds up is to attempt to make an identical comparison.

Otmar, thanks for the article.

Phil,

A post on Ben Stein's recent comments has been started over at "Strange Doctrines" ("Stein's Got Stones, That's For Sure") if you are interested.

The Medium Lobster offers typically profound insights into "gulag."

I may just read this differently than you, but I take a "gulag", in common language, to mean not something that is in all respects as bad as the Soviet gulag, but a string of camps where people are held without trial and without rights.

This is where we differ, hilzoy. I suggest that Khan chose "gulag" deliberately because Soviet slave labor camps where millions starved to death are the first thing that come to mind for most. Gulag isn't just some generic neutral term, just like Auschwitz isn't just some tranquil German town. I also give you Anne Applebaum, author of Gulag and no conservative:

Unfortunately, Amnesty International has now strayed far away from that high ideal, and is on the verge of discrediting itself altogether.

True, Amnesty continues to keep track of the world′s political prisoners, as it has done for more than forty years, 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, not for the world′s worst human rights abusers, but for the United States. Then this week, Amnesty released its annual report. The first clue that something might be wrong at Amnesty headquarters could be found in the report′s introduction, in which the organization′s secretary-general, Irene Khan, discussed only two countries at length: Sudan and the United States. She called the latter the "unrivalled political, military and economic hyper-power," which "thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights." Then, in the news conference held tol aunch the report, she spoke of the American prisoner of war facility at Guantanamo bay as "the gulag of our time."
...
Nevertheless, I draw the line at Amnesty′s use of the word "gulag" to describe these policies, as well as the implication that the United States has somehow become the modern equivalent of Stalin′s Soviet Union.
Guantanamo Bay was a flawed response to an unprecedented situation: A war in which the enemy were not soldiers, but stateless terrorists. Early abuses there have been investigated and discussed by the FBI, the press and, to a still limited extent, the military. There is evidence that the situation is changing.

The Soviet gulag, by contrast, was a massive forced labor complex consisting of thousands of concentration camps and hundreds of exile villages. More than 18 million prisoners, and some 6 million exiles pass through the system during Stalin′s lifetime, although their fate was never publicly acknowledged during his lifetime, and only limited information was ever published by Soviet authorities after his death. Soviet camps and political prisons were in existence from the time of the revolution to the time of Gorbachev, more than eighty years. They were a major part of the Soviet economy, and helped create the atmosphere of generalized terror and fear of state authorities which persists in Russia today. Their true 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 give the American administration another
excuse to dismiss valid objections to its policies as "hysterical," and, worst of all, discredits the human rights movement itself.

Forgive the use of bandwidth, but I take Applebaum seriously and consider her words important.

Incidentally, noting that Phil broke his link to the cuckoo Ben Stein piece, there you go.

"A post on Ben Stein's recent comments has been started over at 'Strange Doctrines' ("Stein's Got Stones, That's For Sure") if you are interested."

Presumably you mean this rather unknown blog, which has apparently been around for two months, done by someone or someones who don't even use a handle. Here are twenty other blog threads, although I'm unaware of any special qualities of any of these.

Is there something notable about the entry on "Strange Doctrines"? If you're connected to it, plugging it is fine, but I'm puzzled over the point of the cite.

Anne Applebaum, author of Gulag and no conservative

Well, actually, yes she is, but actually actually it's irrelevant.

She called the latter the "unrivalled political, military and economic hyper-power," which "thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights."
I can understand the objection to "gulag", but I'm at a loss as to what the problem is with that description.

Charles: but I take Applebaum seriously and consider her words important

Of course you do, Charles: she seems to have exactly the same myopia you do. When the messenger brings bad news, shoot the messenger, and complain that the messenger said an offensive word to you so it was really the messenger's fault they got shot.

Given that she adds nothing new to the debate here, why quote her at such length? She's saying exactly the same nonsense you've been saying - "Amnesty said Gulag! About US! OMG that makes them BAD!"

hilzoy, I've got to ask why you are puzzled?

You've seen it before, you're seeing it now and you'll see it for the rest of your life - Republicans supporting the GOP by trashing anybody with morals and decency, if those morals cause them to oppose the GOP.

You've seen people deny many evil acts of the Bush administration in between justifying those acts.

I won't name names, but one of those has been posting at length on this very thread, as if bound and determined to prove to everybody that political loyalty trumps any other concern.

Accept it, understand it, and function accordingly.

Presumably you mean this rather unknown blog, which has apparently been around for two months, done by someone or someones who don't even use a handle.

1. Given that his archives go back to mid-2003, one wonders where exactly you learned to count.

2. He does, in fact, use a handle -- Tadlow Windsor III -- although he does not sign every post. He used to use his given name, but given his political viewpoint, decided to switch to an alias so as not to invite professional retaliation.

3. He is a professional musician who is often touring, so does not have much opportunity to blog as often as he'd like.

4. Using the word "unknown" based solely on Technorati is a curious choice of words. I've been reading him for about a year and a half, Volokh has linked to him several times . . . I mean, "unknown?" Really?

As far as I am concerned, David Hicks is clearly a terrorist sympathizer. He voluntarily went to Afghanistan after 9/11 to fight the US.

How exactly is going to Afghanistan to fight an occupying army "terrorism"?

This is *precisely* what people from all over the Muslim world did during the eighties when the army was Soviet - with the active aid of the US.

I'm just puzzled about what the general principle is supposed to be. My puzzlement has not diminished. And I would not have thought my puzzlement worth remarking on if I didn't respect the other members of the ObWi hive mind enough to think that there should be one.

"1. Given that his archives go back to mid-2003, one wonders where exactly you learned to count."

From his front page, which lists the earliest archive page as "March 28, 2005 - April 3, 2005."

"Using the word 'unknown' based solely on Technorati is a curious choice of words."

Hey, the leading lister of links says that almost no one has linked to him. Take it up with them. In any case, I wasn't trying to trash the fellow; I simply didn't follow the point of the cite; I'd ask again what the point of the cite is, but it really doesn't seem to be a question worth pursuing past a single q-and-a.

Gary Farber,

Phil has already addressed some of your puzzlement over http://strangedoctrines.typepad.com/. He was interested in discussing the recent comments by Ben Stein and I thought I'd point him to a site with a post on the topic. Nothing "notable," just a friendly FYI. I have enjoyed reading Strange Doctrines for well over a year now because TW III's topics are varied and interesting, he knows alot about philosophy, and I think he's a damn good guy. It is unfortunate that his blog doesn't get more response.

If the Appelbaum quote doesn't explain my position, I won't be able to.

She called the latter the "unrivalled political, military and economic hyper-power," which "thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights."

I can understand the objection to "gulag", but I'm at a loss as to what the problem is with that description.

I don't have much of an objection to "unrivalled political, military and economic hyper-power," although I'm not it's wholly accurate. I do have an objection to any assertion that the US "thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights." Again, an overreaction to attacks by stateless terrorists who intentionally target, torture, and kill innocents is not thumbing one's nose at "the rule of law" and "human rights" -- particularly since the American "rule of law" has and continues to push back against that overreaction. Indeed, the most charitable thing I can say about this particular comment by AI is that it's ridiculously overbroad. I mean, who, looking at the US as a whole and in context, possibly thinks such things?

I'd rather have the protections afforded virtually every US resident -- not just citizen; resident -- protections of speech, religion, the right not to be compelled to testify against yourself, protections from unlawful searches, etc. over the lesser protections afforded citizens in even our fellow "liberal democracies."

You've seen it before, you're seeing it now and you'll see it for the rest of your life - Republicans supporting the GOP by trashing anybody with morals and decency, if those morals cause them to oppose the GOP.

I actually think that the same thing can be said by those at AI, who seek to use every means at their disposal to score cheap political points against the US.

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