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June 08, 2005

Comments

Talking about throwing things away:

"Amnesty, by misusing language, by discarding its former neutrality, and by handing the administration an easy way to brush off "ridiculous" accusations, also deprives itself of what should be its best ally. The United States, as the world's largest and most powerful democracy, remains, for all its flaws, the world's best hope for the promotion of human rights."

Applebaum is throwing away any chance of being viewed as a person who observes the world with her eyes open. So long as the Administration is taking the actions it has at Guantanamo, Bagram, et al., and denying that it does so, and promoting the very people who justify such actions, believing that the United States will reform itself is little different than believing one can fly.

Like the Cold War, the war on terrorism is an ideological war, one that we will "win" when our opponents give up and join us, just like the East Germans who streamed over the Berlin Wall. But if the young people of the Arab world are to reject radical Islam...

Applebaum is an idiot. Assymetrical warfare will not disappear - ever - as its use is not an ideological decision but a tactical one, nor is terrorism limited to the Arab world, nor is it its use necessarily linked with fundamentalist religions.

The rest of the points in your post has already been discussed here to the point of boredom. Start looking for a new hobby.

Oh, please. Applebaum is a leading authority on authoritarian repression in general and the gulags in particular. Ignore her at peril of your public esteem, not hers.

Yes, there is good and evil in the world, and there is good and evil in the US. But in order for the good to prevail, the evil must be called out and spotlighted. These abuses have been known for a couple years now and what has been done. A few grunts have gone to jail, a National Guard brigadier has been reprimanded and the Administration continues its defense of the practices. If Amnesty has turned the light up a little brighter, good for them.

"But also do not forget that there is good and evil in the world, and that we -- the free societies of the North, South, East, and West -- are the good."

Then we damn well better start acting like it, oughtn't we?

Oh, please. Applebaum is a leading authority on authoritarian repression in general and the gulags in particular. Ignore her at peril of your public esteem, not hers.

Argument From Authority: the claim that the speaker is an expert, and so should be trusted.

Got any arguments that aren't textbook definitions of fallacies?

I agree with Tacitus regarding Applebaum's general stature and qualifications for talking about this sort of thing. That said, I find nothing to disagree with in felix's particular criticism of the particular statement he quoted. In fact, I think it's rather on point, and if Tacitus has a counterargument, I'd like to hear it.

Amnesty, by misusing language, by discarding its former neutrality, and by handing the administration an easy way to brush off "ridiculous" accusations, also deprives itself of what should be its best ally... If Amnesty still believes in its stated mission, its leaders should push American democratic institutions to influence U.S. policy for the good of the world, and not attack the American government for the satisfaction of their own political faction.
Because, lord knows, they were making great progress at getting the "American democratic institutions" to address the issue for the two years prior to this report. Give me a break! At least this got the whole sordid, sorry mess back into the headlines for a bit.

" we -- the free societies of the North, South, East, and West -- are the good. "

See, that's a dangerous state of mind. It bespeaks a moral essentialism -- the belief that we are Good therefore all we do is Good. Down that road is every atrocity ever committed. More sane is to recognize when we do good, and call it good, and recognize when we do evil (and we have that capacity) and call it evil.

And yipping about AI using harsh words for our murdering people is frankly asinine. The trend of yipping about AI's criticism for a week and then following it up with 'but they're right and these things are terrible' is doubly asinine. It suggests that your problem is not with the criticism, it's with the temerity of AI doing it without earning the right to criticize via some sort of test I can't even imagine.

Still, people who make inappropriate comparisons are as bad as Hitler.

See, that's a dangerous state of mind. It bespeaks a moral essentialism -- the belief that we are Good therefore all we do is Good.

Where do you see that asserted in my post? Indeed, do I not state (expressly, repeatedly) the contrary?

Assymetrical warfare will not disappear - ever - as its use is not an ideological decision but a tactical one, nor is terrorism limited to the Arab world, nor is it its use necessarily linked with fundamentalist religions.

Assume I agree with each of those points, Felixrayman. How does it answer Appelbaum's (or my or Tacitus's, for that matter) argument in any way?

AI didn't "hand" Bush an "easy way to brush off" the allegations. Bush denied the very premise that the U.S. has done anything wrong at Gitmo or elsewhere, and would surely have had an identical reaction if asked about the word you do agree with ("murder"), instead of the one you don't ("gulag"). The implication that the administration would have been more responsive if AI had just phrased its criticisms in a manner more deferential to the U.S.'s status as "the good" is, forgive me, asinine.


Actually, Sidereal, my beef is with the failure to call things what they are -- whether it's done by Amnesty, the Bush Administration, or anyone.

Either we care about accuracy, or we do not.

The implication that the administration would have been more responsive if AI had just phrased its criticisms in a manner more deferential to the U.S.'s status as "the good" is, forgive me, asinine.

Where do you see either Appelbaum or I caring about whether the Administration would have been more or less "responsive" to an accurate criticism? (Indeed, the advantage of an accurate criticism is that it is accurate -- and thus can stick on its own merits.)

Just because you care about accuracy doesn't mean you're not Iron Feliks, von.

Amnesty, by misusing language, by discarding its former neutrality, and by handing the administration an easy way to brush off "ridiculous" accusations, also deprives itself of what should be its best ally.

Assume I agree with each of those points, Felixrayman.

If I assumed that, I would be wondering why the heck you found it fit to highlight the sentence you did from the piece you quoted.

Are American proto-facsist and theocrats evil?

That doesn't cut it, ST. Appelbaum's not presuming that the Bush Administration would necessarily be responsive to a just criticism of its policies. For she (or I) know, the Administration would continue its policy of promoting those in command while laying the blame for their command errors at the feet of ordinary soldiers. What Appelbaum is saying (and I endorse) is that it's the height of stupidity for Amnesty to needlessly offend the country that is, by any objective measure, a potential ally.

Yes, speak truth to power; but it does not follow that one should speak untruth to purposefully offend poower.

If Amnesty still believes in its stated mission, its leaders should push American democratic institutions to influence U.S. policy for the good of the world, and not attack the American government for the satisfaction of their own political faction.

I don't understand this. At least one of our elected branches is responsible for the terrible policies. Applebaum herself is

"appalled by this administration's detention practices and interrogation policies, by the lack of a legal mechanism to judge the guilt of alleged terrorists, and by the absence of any outside investigation into reports of prison abuse."

How then is it possible to "push American democratic institutions to influence U.S. policy for the good of the world" and at the same time "not attack the American government?"

If the goal is to publicize abuses, in order to put on pressure for change, then you have to point out those who are responsible. So why does she think it unwise for AI to be critical of the government?

Applebaum's criticism amounts to a claim that "gulag" is both an inaccurate term and poor tactics. OK. But by joining the gang screaming about that word, she herself is helping those who want to deflect attention from the substance of the report.

von writes,

Never forget our errors, our sins of omission of commission, or our excesses of fear and anger. Never forget the wrongs that have been perpetrated in our name in Abu Ghraib and Gitmo and other places whose names and places remain unknown. Don't leave unanswered the amoralists who purport to the high ground, and who propose that all is justified against an evil foe.

I agree. But memory is not enough. Justice is needed also, and so far there has been precious little of it.

von also writes,

But also do not forget that there is good and evil in the world, and that we -- the free societies of the North, South, East, and West -- are the good.

I agree with this too, but I think we should prove it.


Felixrayman, write out your critique of my post as if I do not possess mind-reading powers -- because they appear to be on the fritz at the moment.

(IOW, I haven't a clue what you're getting at.)

Anyone got any other loaded questions they'd like to throw out there? As the largest collection of Pol Pot lookalikes on the planet, we're all about service.

I like the Crooked Timber take on this, including the comment thread. (Linked at Unfogged.)

"Yes, speak truth to power; but it does not follow that one should speak untruth to purposefully offend power. "

Like Bush does with Saudi Arabia? Yemen? Jordan? Egypt? Turkey?
They seem to listen to Bush more than AI. Especially since AI is so rude.

AI's responsibility is to respect the tribal sensitivities of the ruling political classes of the nations it dares speak of?

I don't understand this. At least one of our elected branches is responsible for the terrible policies.

Her point is that, unlike in the Soviet system, the executive is not the government. That is, any criticism of the U.S. Government must be of the government, which means taking into account the role of our courts and Constitutional guarantees (or freedom of speech, etc.). If Amnesty wants to makes it's criticism accurate, it must recognize this distinction -- but, of course, to recognize that the power of the executive is checked by the Court and the role of a free press would have made its use of the word "gulag" appear even more ridiculous.

Applebaum's criticism amounts to a claim that "gulag" is both an inaccurate term and poor tactics. OK. But by joining the gang screaming about that word, she herself is helping those who want to deflect attention from the substance of the report.

No. Amnesty did this to itself; I am not required to agree with its lies as a condition to my agreeing with certain of its criticisms.

Felixrayman, write out your critique of my post as if I do not possess mind-reading powers -- because they appear to be on the fritz at the moment.

The following sentence is underlined and bolded in your post:

Like the Cold War, the war on terrorism is an ideological war, one that we will "win" when our opponents give up and join us, just like the East Germans who streamed over the Berlin Wall.

It is not underlined in the article you linked to. I assume you found it important enough to underline for a reason, what was it? I think it's blatantly false, as are the other premises that follow it.

Like I said earlier, most of the rest of your post contains points that have been debated ad infinitum here already.

Slarti, do you pick your feet in Poughkeepsie?

"What Appelbaum is saying (and I endorse) is that it's the height of stupidity for Amnesty to needlessly offend the country that is, by any objective measure, a potential ally."

That's the fallacy. So long as the Administration acts as it does by, among many other things, "promoting those in command while laying the blame for their command errors at the feet of ordinary soldiers" it cannot be a potential ally. Until then, it is entirely uninterested in correcting what Applebaum and von decry.

AI's responsibility is to respect the tribal sensitivities of the ruling political classes of the nations it dares speak of?

AI's responsibility is to truthful and accurate reporting; respect for "tribal sensitivities" -- whatever that means outside of "English 341: Reverse Colonialism as motif in the Art and Poetry of Wicker Park's Gentrification, 1996-2002" is of no moment.

Dang, Phil, that flew clean over my head. But I'm so low that I look up to centipedes.

I have great hopes for large effects from the Abu Ghraib photos soon to be released.

A clue:

When the Swiftboaters did their thing, everyone talked about Kerry
When the NatGuard memos were the story, the left blogosphere talked about Rather
When Newsweek got in trouble, the left blogosphere talked about Koran desecration
The left blogosphere is not talking about AI at all.

This is no longer working.

Von...I have pages I feel I should write in response, but I'll try to do it here in your thread and not start a new one.

A preference for doublespeak over the dictionary, however, is indeed a slender reed on which to hang a defense.

Thanks for phrasing it that way. It jarred my memory and prompted me to go back to this quote:

Double speak brings disrepute to human rights but, sadly, it is a common phenomenon. The USA and its allies purported to fight the war in Iraq to protect human rights – but openly eroded human rights to win the “war on terror”. The war in Iraq was launched ostensibly to reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction, yet the world is awash with small arms and conventional weapons that kill more than half a million people a year. To make matters worse, in the name of combating the so-called “war on terror”, many countries have relaxed controls on exports to governments that are known to have appalling human rights records, among them Colombia, Indonesia, Israel and Pakistan. The uncontrolled trade in arms puts us all at greater risk in peace and war.

That's from the Amnesty International Report the year before. Further reading of the Secretary General's message provides exactly what you, and Applebaum and other critics are calling for: neutral, credible, human rights advocates reports...here's a sample:

Human rights are for the best of us and the worst of us, for the guilty as well as the innocent. Denial of fair trial is an abuse of rights and risks converting perpetrators into martyrs. This is why we call for Saddam Hussein to be tried in accordance with international standards. This is why we oppose military commissions for the detainees at the US naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, that fail to meet international standards.

Over a year ago they said that, and what good did it do? Did that neutral, credible dialog change any opinions in the US? Did our leadership even pay any attention? Here's more of what you demand from 2004:

Sacrificing human rights in the name of security at home, turning a blind eye to abuses abroad, and using pre-emptive military force where and when it chooses have neither increased security nor ensured liberty.

Again, what good did any of that do?

At least in the face of the outrage over the "gulag" term, Americans left and right are admitting we do have a problem.

I'm sorry, but from what I've been reading, that represents important progress.

It is not underlined in the article you linked to. I assume you found it important enough to underline for a reason, what was it? I think it's blatantly false, as are the other premises that follow it.

I emphasized that line because it speaks to the truth of the struggle: Young Moslem men and women will cease to blow themselves up with the current regularity when they see the advantages of a society that is prosperous, free, and governed by secular laws.

Like I said earlier, most of the rest of your post contains points that have been debated ad infinitum here already.

Don't you understand....this is a war of attrition. If they leap out of the trenches just one more time, you'll probably concede just to make it stop.

I don’t remember anyone complaining when Reagan and Bush joined Amnesty International to call Saddam Hussein the Hitler of our time, for gassing Kurds and invading his neighbors.

Ed, with respect, more minds were changed on Gitmo and the like by the (accurate) report that the homicide rate was something like 15 times the average homicide rate in an ordinary prison. That's what prompted folks like Reynolds and the like to say, "hey, there's a real problem here."

AI's overstatements, on the other hand, has been a huge distraction and I fear that AI has done immense damage to its own credibility.

What does 'credibility' mean to you in this context? 'Gulag' wasn't a claim of fact, it was an overstated rhetorical epithet. By saying that AI has 'lost credibility' do you mean that you believe: "Because AI used a epithet I consider offensively inapplicable, I will assume that the facts they report are less likely to be correct"? That seems like an odd leap of logic to make -- shouldn't you judge the credibility of their fact claims on the basis of how well those fact claims prove out?

Young Moslem men and women will cease to blow themselves up with the current regularity when they see the advantages of a society that is prosperous, free, and governed by secular laws.

To the extent that this is true -- and that lies largely in the ability to convince the people we're trying to convince that those three things are features and not bugs -- in what nontrivial way will that constitute a victory in the "war on terrorism," as you and Applebaum suggest? Will it also convince, say, the IRA and the ELF to give up just because radical Islamists did?

AI's overstatements, on the other hand, has been a huge distraction and I fear that AI has done immense damage to its own credibility.

Only in some quarters. Deconstruct, for example, this statement by Applebaum:

I don't know when Amnesty ceased to be politically neutral or at what point its leaders' views morphed into ordinary anti-Americanism.

"Ordinary" anti-Americanism? Is that really an accurate description of what they wrote? Isn't "ordinary" anti-Americanism prompted by petty resentments, nationalisms, and misrepresentations by oppressive governments? The kind you'll find throughout the Middle East or in France? There's nothing "ordinary" at all about what it took to drive AI to resort to hyperbole to get folks attention. They're not resenting the US. They are deeply and profoundly horrified by what the US is doing.

You keep coming back to crediblilty, and Applebaum cites the response of the "young people of the Arab world [ready] to reject radical Islam and climb that wall," but how much credibility do you think AI would have with them if AI hadn't slammed the US for G-Bay, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, etc.?

Sure it does, von. Applebaum is saying that it is, inter alia, the misuse of language that allows Bush to shrug off the allegations of human rights abuses. She is wrong.

Your subsequent projection of what she is saying is wrong, too - she is not advising AI to avoid "needlessly offending" the US, but rather saying that AI should be less concerned with bashing the Bush administration, and more focused on lobbying the "democratic institutions" of the US to work "for the good of the world." As far as I know, the Bush administration and the United States are not the same thing.

I emphasized that line because it speaks to the truth of the struggle: Young Moslem men and women will cease to blow themselves up with the current regularity when they see the advantages of a society that is prosperous, free, and governed by secular laws.

That is not the truth of the struggle. Suicide bombers are more likely to be working for secular organizations than religious ones. They are not always Muslim, nor, as Applebaum implies, Arab. They, almost always, have a specific goal of compelling a country to end an occupation of territory that organization sees as its homeland. They do not blow themselves up because they are not prosperous - they are usually more prosperous than average. They do not blow themselves up because they are religious.

They do blow themselves up because they do not see themselves as free, specifically, not free from outside occuptation.

From a NYT article:

Over the past two years, I have compiled a database of every suicide bombing and attack around the globe from 1980 through 2003 - 315 in all. This includes every episode in which at least one terrorist killed himself or herself while trying to kill others, but excludes attacks authorized by a national government (like those by North Korean agents against South Korea). The data show that there is far less of a connection between suicide terrorism and religious fundamentalism than most people think.

The leading instigator of suicide attacks is the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, a Marxist-Leninist group whose members are from Hindu families but who are adamantly opposed to religion. This group committed 76 of the 315 incidents, more than Hamas (54) or Islamic Jihad (27). Even among Muslims, secular groups like the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Al Aksa Martyr Brigades account for more than a third of suicide attacks.

What nearly all suicide terrorist attacks actually have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland. Religion is often used as a tool by terrorist organizations in recruiting and in seeking aid from abroad, but is rarely the root cause.

Three general patterns in the data support these conclusions. First, nearly all suicide terrorist attacks - 301 of the 315 in the period I studied - took place as part of organized political or military campaigns. Second, democracies are uniquely vulnerable to suicide terrorists; America, France, India, Israel, Russia, Sri Lanka and Turkey have been the targets of almost every suicide attack of the past two decades. Third, suicide terrorist campaigns are directed toward a strategic objective: from Lebanon to Israel to Sri Lanka to Kashmir to Chechnya, the sponsors of every campaign - 18 organizations in all - are seeking to establish or maintain political self-determination.

Start looking for a new hobby.

Sheesh. I hope not. ObWi would fly off this lurker's bookmark list so fast it would produce a sonic boom.

About this issue, of speaking the truth to power, I have some strong feelings about it. I don't know much about the effectiveness of the sugar over vinegar tactic when we apply it at the State level. However, I know personally when trying to bridge common ground with say, some of my close family members who I regard as religious wackos, I try to avoid mentioning to them that I think they are wackos, though I hold this to be true. I could even justify the label, certainly to people who share my viewpoint, and probably to many uninterested third parties. But I have observed its better to just respectfully point out the inconsistances between their beliefs and their actions where appropriate. This gets you pretty far, so long as their belief system are in broad terms, non-evil. I consider their chosen religion to be at its core non-evil, and I have made progress with this route. To the extent I lose patience and abandon this route, progress is non-existant.

Now, considering that States are just large assemblies of individuals, it would seem to follow that what works with individuals would work with them. Just continue to point out the inconsistancies of their belief system to their actions. To the extent one thinks that the belief system of the United States government is non-evil (and I for one certainly think this) this approach should eventually prevail. Calling them gulag mongering wackos would then be not productive. Is there disagreement with this? If so, at what part?

Ted Barlow sums up this "controversy" quite well in today's Crooked Timber post:

We had a truly remarkable debate. On one hand, we had an organization with a 40-year history of standing up for human rights regardless of borders and ideology, criticizing the United States for holding prisoners without due process and torturing them. Only a fool would deny that this is, in fact, happening. On the other hand, we have an Administration accusing Amnesty International of poor word choice.

[...]

P.S. You can imagine a world in which the term “gulag” had not been used in that speech. In that world, do you imagine that the Amnesty report would have set off a serious effort on the part of the Bush Administration to correct its abuses? Or do you think that they would find another excuse- any excuse- to belittle and ignore the report? The question answers itself, doesn’t it?

I'm astonished (and I shouldn't be) that AI's use of the term "gulag" as a metaphor for a prison camp built on Cuban soil for the express purpose of removing American due process and accountability is causing such a fuss. It's as if someone used the term "disaster" for Kerry's presidential campaign, and everyone started harping about how there were no landslides or casualties.

On one hand, we had an organization with a 40-year history of standing up for human rights regardless of borders and ideology, criticizing the United States for holding prisoners without due process and torturing them. Only a fool would deny that this is, in fact, happening. On the other hand, we have an Administration accusing Amnesty International of poor word choice.

pure brilliance.

But Hussein was Hitler, has everyone forgotten how to deal with Hitler.

And Bin Laden, he was Hitler and 9-11 was Pearl Harbor.

And people who ignor Hitler are Chamberlains...AI is Chamberlain.

But I have observed its better to just respectfully point out the inconsistances between their beliefs and their actions where appropriate.

But that would mean you'd have to stop demonizing your opponents, and where's the fun in that, I ask you? Now leave me alone, I've got heretics to torture and burn.

Seriously (and by now it's probably getting hard to tell if I ever am serious), Neolith, well put! You should consider coming out of lurkernation more often.

@ von
IMHO what's grating to some is that Applebaum talks of an ideological war and about having to show one's opponents something they can admire and then turns around and shows her willingness to focus on the wording of AI instead of the abuses perpetrated in her name.
I mean, to a casual observer this has the distinct ring of attacking the messenger first (for what little it is worth, as a foreigner, I get a distinct ring of "how dare outsiders criticise us in this matter" from all the outrage over AI's words). In other words, why isn't she out there protesting the atrocities and the administration that let/helped them happen and continues to do little about it. Why isn't she devoting her column to forcefully condemning the administration for grabbing the slender reed of "ridiculous charges" instead of addressing the problem? I mean, when I rate these three things: (a) prisoner abuse and torture (b) and adminstration that continues to sit on its hand concerning (a) and (c) bullshit on top of valid ciriticism from a non-profit organisation, I have a clear sense which of these are important, and which are not.

That said, I think on the merits her argument as to what makes the US different is not particularly strong, in that what happened happened, despite the free press and the separation of powers and hence invoking their _intended_ role does not establish the invalidity of the comparison. In other words, whether the media are coerced into following the party line or brainwashed into doing it freely is in some cases a distinction without a difference. Similarly, the judiciary can be a check or a willing accomplice occupied with finding legal loopholes. That said, I agree with the gist of your and Applebaum's criticism, just wanted to note that I don't find her argument persuasive.

That said, thanks for your statements in the second half of the post.

But also do not forget that there is good and evil in the world, and that we -- the free societies of the North, South, East, and West -- are the good.

The problem is, a group or nation is not "good by nature" but "good by action." We do good things and bad things, and on balance I believe we do more good things than bad things. When we begin to justify the bad things and excuse ourselves, because "We're the good guys," we have a serious problem. The more "bad things" we allow ourselves to do, the closer we get to becoming the next bad guy.

Or do you think that they would find another excuse- any excuse- to belittle and ignore the report?

I'd like to imagine a world in which organizations which issue reports on human rights abuses did not give excuses to ignore and belittle their reports at all. I have faith in the government, that after time and reflection it will eventually do the right thing. I personally believe that using inaccurate terms and hyperbole slows that already glacial process, instead of speeding it up. I might be wrong, but I haven't seen evidence to lead me to believe that I am.

Edward is right. The real reason, IMO, for AI's outrageous diction is not to influence the Bush administration. They know that'll never work. Bush and Cheney are not the intended audience.

They can't get the President's attention; they know that. They want to get America's attention instead. How? Be outrageous!

I think AI trolled us, big time. It's just like Fahrenheit 9/11. Maybe it is full of baloney, but it sure got people talking. How many people have now learned a lot more details about Gitmo since AI called them a gulag? There's no way AI could have generated so much interest in their cause by simply ticking off those facts dispationately themselves.

I don't think anyone will ignore Gitmo because AI called it a gulag, but I think there are a lot of people suddenly paying attention to it (indirectly) because AI called it a gulag.

Not that I'm defending them or anything. If they use this tactic every year, it'll stop working. I just think they knew what they were doing when they did it, and the (short term) results have been precisely as desired.

I'm astonished (and I shouldn't be) that AI's use of the term "gulag" as a metaphor for a prison camp built on Cuban soil for the express purpose of removing American due process and accountability is causing such a fuss.

Wait...the main point of gulags were that they removed due process? How could I have been so wrong? And the Holocaust, that was just about due process, too! Everything that came after was simply unworthy of notice.

Or, it could be that "gulag" actually means a lot more than deprivation of due process, and this whole equation of Gitmo to the gulags is completely devoid of merit.

Pick one.

Start looking for a new hobby.

Sheesh. I hope not. ObWi would fly off this lurker's bookmark list so fast it would produce a sonic boom.

JFTR, I wasn't implying that von should stop posting, merely that he should find something to post about that hasn't been discussed to death already.

I don't think anyone will ignore Gitmo because AI called it a gulag, but I think there are a lot of people suddenly paying attention to it (indirectly) because AI called it a gulag.

I think that's obvious. The question however (as with F911, and all shock and awe tactics) is; has it changed any minds, and started new dialogs? Or has it just increased the volume of existing ones? In watching the ensuing conversations, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of "Wow, I never thought about it that way" and instead a whole lot of "What? That's absurd!" from one direction and a bunch of nodding and "See? That's what we've been saying the whole time!" from the other.

unlike in the Soviet system, the executive is not the government.

True, though it's worth noting that Bush and his AG seem to feel that that is not quite accurate - that the President is free to do things like detain citizens indefinitely on his own unquestionable authority.

any criticism of the U.S. Government must be of the government, which means taking into account the role of our courts and Constitutional guarantees

I don't think it's far-fetched to characterize actions taken by the executive which are unchecked by Congress or the courts as actions of "the Government." Congress could have stepped in on extraordinary rendition. It hasn't, Markey's efforts notwithstanding.

Amnesty did this to itself; I am not required to agree with its lies as a condition to my agreeing with certain of its criticisms.

No. But there is a question of emphasis. When someone's main reaction to the report is to focus on one error and comment minimally if at all on the specific abuses described then I think that person can fairly be criticized for trying to deflect attention form the abuses.

I am not accusing you of doing this, von. I don't have a compendium of your writings on the subject handy. I am accusing Applebaum, based on this column. Perhaps that's unfair to her and she has written extensively elsewhere on the torture scandals. Still, there are an awful lot of people, including the two at the very top of the American government, who do seem to be trying hard to shift attention to wording.


I'll grant Amnesty International their "gulag", given Bush's inaccurate use of the word "Axis".

(Especially since the one country that could accurately be described as an Axis of Evil, it would have to be Pakistan, around which the others revolve.)

I'll grant Amnesty International their "gulag", given Bush's inaccurate use of the word "Axis".

Ahh, but you're missing the crux of von's critique, Jon. Amnesty was a credible source before their inaccurate use. Bush had no such constraint.

Von,

How about Amnesty International declares a unit of measure called the "Gulag", where the Soviet gulag system is 1.0 gulags.

What fraction of a Gulag would you assign to the United States' network of prisons, secret CIA detention centers, outsourced torture locations, andindefinite-detention brigs?

.5 Gulags?

.05?

(I suppose the scale probably needs to be logarithmic.)

Let's see: America is holding hundreds of prisoners who've been held for 3 years without being charged with a damn thing, but apparently have been mistreated in various ways.

(And remember, being held for 3 years without having done anything wrong is "mistreatment." If you disagree, I'll lock you in my basement for 3 years and ask you how you feel after that.)

There are different ways to react to America's deed, including:

(1) ignore it.

(2) post about how wrong it is.

(3) post about one's indignation that someone called this setup a "gulag."

Whereas (1) makes me a little sad, (3) makes me a little sick.

Von et al., please tell us the proper word for "an extralegal camp into which prisoners can be cast and held indefinitely with no meaningful process for years." I promise to start using it.


I guess the problem with the Soviet Gulag is not so much that it was wrong in principle, but just that it kinda got out of hand.

If fewer people had been subjected to it (and if they'd been in a nice tropical climate maybe?) it would have been okay.

Gulags are okay, this thinking goes, up to a point. Moderation in all things, right?

See, we're keeping the numbers under control, so even if we do the same exact things, we're really not bad like that.

"please tell us the proper word for "an extralegal camp into which prisoners can be cast and held indefinitely with no meaningful process for years.""

These days, the term would be "US Military service."

See, we're keeping the numbers under control, so even if we do the same exact things, we're really not bad like that.

No, in fact, we're virtuous.

Here, have another piece of apple pie.

please tell us the proper word for "an extralegal camp into which prisoners can be cast and held indefinitely with no meaningful process for years."

I'm part of the et al, I suppose, so I'll return your request with a question: Why do you need a (probably inflamatory) label for it? If we're talking about Camp X-Ray, talk about it, if we're talking about CIA detention centers, talk about that.

I'm part of the et al, I suppose, so I'll return your request with a question: Why do you need a (probably inflamatory) label for it? If we're talking about Camp X-Ray, talk about it, if we're talking about CIA detention centers, talk about that.

Wow, what a clever way to destroy all conceptual thought whatsoever.

Concepts without particulars are empty; particulars without concepts are blind. This applies to moral judgments as well.

But I'm not surprised that some people would be afraid to call such a camp for what it is.

Why do you need a (probably inflamatory) label for it?

Clarity and brevity, perhaps? Why would the label necessarily be inflammatory? Suppose I want to discuss, in general, the entire set of places that Anderson described - what term should I use that is both brief and clear as to the specifics of what is being discussed? If such a label is necessarily inflammatory, what does that tell you?

I think part of the point Neolith is that the USSR had a nice official sounding name for their gulags as well (Main Directorate of Corrective Labor Camps). The irony is that at some point in the future, some organization's report will most probably refer to some mess of an attempt to control people as the "Gitmo of our times."

Neolith writes: "If we're talking about Camp X-Ray, talk about it, if we're talking about CIA detention centers, talk about that."

Yeah, because then we might kinda forget that they're all part of a system, an ethos, a value system, which says it's pretty much okay if you take an innocent guy, disappear him into a prison system without a trial, beat his legs to a pulp, and let him die, just so long as he's a kulak.

Er, I mean terrorist.

Edward writes: "I think part of the point Neolith is that the USSR had a nice official sounding name for their gulags as well (Main Directorate of Corrective Labor Camps)."

Nah, I think Neolith wants to keep the places isolated in peoples' minds, so that it's more credible when it is claimed that it's just because of some rogue elements at a low level, rather than being a widespread institutional problem with high-level approval.

If you do that, it helps minimize the problem.

Grrrrr ... shouldn't comment when angry. I withdraw the last sentence of my last comment (3:39 p.m.).

Sigh.

Anyone whose reaction to AI's report was & continues to be "but it's not a gulag!" is surely beyond any powers of description available to me.

Jon, is it your contention that Neolith is blessing such activities? If so, please point out where he's voiced approval. If not, WTFO.

"Jon, is it your contention that Neolith is blessing such activities?"

Nope, not at all.

I think Neolith wants to keep the places isolated in peoples' minds, so that it's more credible when it is claimed that it's just because of some rogue elements at a low level, rather than being a widespread institutional problem with high-level approval.

If you can read Neo's thought processes to that extent, then read mine. Something about obeying posting rules in regards abusing other posters. Only with hot salsa.

And, in case I didn't make it clear, personal-foul mind-reading penalty on Jon, 15 yards from the previous spot.

"Where do you see that asserted in my post?"

I quote the passage immediately before my comment.

"Either we care about accuracy, or we do not."

Of course, but we don't care about it in a vacuum. Some things we care more about. . things like. . oh I don't know. . inhumane treatment of human beings, maintenance of the United States standards of moral conduct, and so on.

So when one sees an entire half of the commentariat getting into a kerfuffle over the semantics of 'gulag' rather than getting into a kerfuffle over people being murdered, one kind of wonders what the hell is going on.

So when one sees an entire half of the commentariat getting into a kerfuffle over the semantics of 'gulag' rather than getting into a kerfuffle over people being murdered, one kind of wonders what the hell is going on.

Only half?

"But he started it first".

err...or something like that.

Yes, yes, I'm afraid to face the truth of Gitmo, and I'm interested in destroying all conceptual thought. Where's my 2nd edition Bushionian Newspeak Dictionary? I'd have to consult that before continuing this discussion.

Edward: Perhaps. I've yet to hear of something referred to as the Japanese Internment Camps of our day, and I'm assuming you'd agree that was a more egregious and widespread violation of human and specifically American rights? That my way of persuasion only works if the values system of the people you are appealing to is non-evil. So, if you understand where I'm coming from, it looks from my POV that all such comparisons to gulags or Corrective Labor Camps or whatever is non-sequituer.

One of the reasons I stay in lurker mode is that I'm not very articulate in large chunks. Nevertheless, let me see if I can explain: If you live in a non-evil society, you will get more success attempting to persuade rather than demonize. In an evil society, demonization does no good anyway, and you might as well either submit on one hand or revolt/subvert/fight on the other; persuasion would be useless at that point.

Are we, as American's, past the evil stage? If so, why are we still sitting around talking about it? If not, why do we demonize? I don't think we've got to that point, and am confident that we are beginning to come around on these points, and in five years or so we will have averted cultural disaster once again.

Felix: I agree, it would be saying something if a label were by neccesity be inflammatory. Has it reached that point?

Once again, Neolith says something eminently reasonable and rational. I predict he'll be roundly denounced for that, which leads me to believe that he is destroying at least some conceptual thought.

Since we all seem to care about meanings, can we now call Islamists "theocrats" instaed of "Islamofacist"?

Or would American theocrats feel all insulted?

Nevertheless, let me see if I can explain: If you live in a non-evil society, you will get more success attempting to persuade rather than demonize. In an evil society, demonization does no good anyway, and you might as well either submit on one hand or revolt/subvert/fight on the other; persuasion would be useless at that point.

Are we, as American's, past the evil stage? If so, why are we still sitting around talking about it? If not, why do we demonize?

What is "past the evil stage"? We're not supposed to believe in "evil" any more?

Near as I can tell, Neolith suggests that criticizing Gitmo as, say, bad policy, is rhetorically more effective than criticizing it as, say, a wicked abuse of human rights.

But: (1) Gitmo HAS been criticized as bad policy. Bush is the author of innumerable bad policies, and the verdict is in: he doesn't really care, and neither do most Americans, Democrat or Republican.

(2) Rhetoric isn't everything. Calling evil "evil" is a moral act, not just a rhetorical one. Pretending that it's just pragmatically unsound to lock up suspects for years without due process is apparently what we're supposed to do. Well, it's not just unsound. It's wicked. It's one of the things the Soviets and the Gestapo were notorious for. It needs to stop, now, whether it's "sound" or "unsound," because it is E-V-I-L to do this to people.

NeoDude, I'd suggest you ask someone who's a theocrat. Let me know what they say.

Near as I can tell, Neolith suggests that criticizing Gitmo as, say, bad policy, is rhetorically more effective than criticizing it as, say, a wicked abuse of human rights.

Are you reading the same Neolith as I am? Because the Neolith I'm reading is saying something to the effect that invective is far less compelling than rhetoric.


Strictly speaking, "Islamofascist" is really pretty far off, given that Islamists don't seem to be particularly concerned about business. I could be mistaken, but I think Mussolini's original concept of fascism involved corporate business in some way, allied with the state.

Admittedly, some terrorist organizations make use of business to generate revenue, to launder money, and to camouflage operations.

But I don't recall anyone saying that the Taliban made the trains run on time, or kindled a business revival in Afghanistan, or anything of the sort.

If you live in a non-evil society, you will get more success attempting to persuade rather than demonize.

This relies on the idea that, questions of evil aside, the parties you are going to attempt to persuade are in a position to be persuaded. By all accounts, the current executive branch is not in that position; their reaction to every account of this issue for three years has been to deny, deflect and distort.

This relies on the idea that, questions of evil aside, the parties you are going to attempt to persuade are in a position to be persuaded. By all accounts, the current executive branch is not in that position; their reaction to every account of this issue for three years has been to deny, deflect and distort.

That'd be a fair point, Phil, if the executive branch were a part of this conversation. And as much as we'd like it to be...I'm thinking it's pretty unlikely.

Are you reading the same Neolith as I am? Because the Neolith I'm reading is saying something to the effect that invective is far less compelling than rhetoric.

Well, it was a genuine question, Slarti. What is "invective"?

If I say that our policy of holding people indefinitely without due process at Gitmo is wicked, is that "invective," per Slartibartfast?

Please advise.

"That'd be a fair point, Phil, if the executive branch were a part of this conversation. And as much as we'd like it to be...I'm thinking it's pretty unlikely."

I don't quite understand this. Slarti, are you saying that the executive branch was not part of the conversation on AI's use of the word "gulag". If so, I am prety sure I can come up with plenty of articles saying the contrary. If not, then what is its relevance to a discussion of AI's use of the term?

That'd be a fair point, Phil, if the executive branch were a part of this conversation. And as much as we'd like it to be...I'm thinking it's pretty unlikely.

Um . . . given that the executive are absolutely the only ones in a position to change these policies, I would instead surmise that they're an indispensable part of the conversation. And they know it, or they would never have said a word about the AI report.

Which is the greater evil at the moment?

1. AI's misuse of the word gulag to describe what are admittedly horrible practices that are not a gulag.

2. The Bush administration's policy of promoting abuse while pretending that it is not, which is AI's point when it misused the word.

It should be beyond obvious what the greater evil is. And the hullabaloo about "gulag" is to some extent the propoganda tool of the abusers in the Bush administration to deflect heat from their odiousness. Just like they game they played about Koran abuse and the Newsweek article.

Applebaum mislabels AI's posture as "anti-American." It more likely reflects outrage that the leader of the free world has fallen into such sin.

In other words, AI's overhearted rhetoric is a lot more excuseable than the opposite by the Bush administration -- false denials of the US abuse policy (extraordinary rendition, ghost prisoners, detention without any hearings as required by Geneva, high rates of murder and abuse in detention, memos laying the intellectual justification for such overreach).

At some point, when you are commiting evil, you are no longer good. How much evil does the Bush administration have to commit before we lose the right to hold the mantle of leader of the free? That is the far more important question than misuse of "gulag" by AI.

Part of the reason I visit ObWi is the fact that the posting rules inhibit name calling. I prefer discussion based on facts and reasoning. So, to the extent that AI's use of the term "gulag" amounts to name calling, I find it disappointing.

This discussion, though, centered on whether AI has damaged itself, hence somehow detracted from the goal of eliminating human rights abuses, and hence bears responsibility and blame for doing so, also disappoints me. It's analogous to blaming Newsweek directly for the deaths in the riots -- a tiny seed of fact surrounded by a huge nut of misdirected argument.

I don't posses the omniscience to determine what the best tactics are for AI to employ to further the goal of eliminating torture from the world. I don't think making such a cold calculation is even the right way to proceed.

As others have pointed out, we cannot expect any arguments, reasoned or otherwise, to sway the Bush administration. We can expect that anyone who criticizes the administration will be smeared.

Since I am a self-identified liberal, I expect what I write to be discounted, perhaps ignored.

Some here may wish to read the Poor Man on this subject. The post is titled Sticks and Stones.

This relies on the idea that, questions of evil aside, the parties you are going to attempt to persuade are in a position to be persuaded. By all accounts, the current executive branch is not in that position; their reaction to every account of this issue for three years has been to deny, deflect and distort.

Yeah, that's the rub. But, Bush and Co. are people. The American people have historically been willing to stomach things when they feel threatened that they later come to regret. Once anger passes, resolution and restitution can occur.

I think it is misunderestimated how angry Bush was about 911, and how that anger interacted with his particular worldview and self-image. In other words, I think that immediately after 911, he was ready to deal death and justice, and if a few innocents got in the way, it was a price he was willing to pay. Many Americans agreed with him.

Many Americans have since started to have second thoughts. I would think, that eventually, Bush will too. Or his second term will end, and change will occur anyway. Either way, I think, because we live in a non-evil and more or less accountable society, we will eventually get it right. And I have to keep coming back to my central point; in that demonization, in that it prolongs the anger/fear that people feel, the anger and fear that motivates them to overlook everything from slight abuses to outright atrocities, is one of the worst forms of debate and discussion one can engage in.

What is "past the evil stage"? We're not supposed to believe in "evil" any more?

I think we will be past the evil stage when discussions like this are no longer possible or tolerated.

But: (1) Gitmo HAS been criticized as bad policy. Bush is the author of innumerable bad policies, and the verdict is in: he doesn't really care, and neither do most Americans, Democrat or Republican.

But as follows from my thoughts above, perhaps enough time has not passed. Now, do not think that I'm attempting to justify our national hissyfits, even though justification may be found. It was unjust to throw ethnic Japanese in camps and confiscate their holdings, evil even. However, after the war passed, ammends were made, because we are not at our core an evil society. I don't know without googling if they were release immediately after the war, or before it was over, or some time after, but it doesn't matter; only that we did something rash and lived to regret it, without totally losing ourselves. I mean, we didn't continue to manufacture reasons they should remain behind barbedwire forever. That does not change the fact that while we as a people were warring and raging, people were wronged, and that was evil. Does that make any sense?

(2) Rhetoric isn't everything. Calling evil "evil" is a moral act, not just a rhetorical one.

I can't fault that. I just question if we're at the point where it is both justified and productive to label our actions evil, and to equate us with some of the great evils of the 20th century. I want innocent people out of camps sooner, rather than later, given that they are in the camps right now.

Slarti, are you saying that the executive branch was not part of the conversation on AI's use of the word "gulag".

No, I'm saying that...look, can you envision that the use of the word "gulag" had any salutory effect in the administration, WRT Gitmo and the like? I can't, unless you imagine that it's salutory that the administration is, if possible, disregarding AI's opinion even more than it was a couple of weeks ago.

The real conversation is out here.

Which is the greater evil at the moment?

1. AI's misuse of the word gulag to describe what are admittedly horrible practices that are not a gulag.

2. The Bush administration's policy of promoting abuse while pretending that it is not, which is AI's point when it misused the word.

What if 1 brings about a longer duration of 2? Clearly, 1 did not cause 2, and I wouldn't argue they are morally as culpable, but the course of wisdom then would be to not do 1, right? I genuinely believe demonization subvert noble intents, and as far as I can tell, no body really disagrees with me on this. So why can't we be critical of our "gulags", but also critical of people and groups who pour gasoline on the issue, making the fire burn hotter and longer?

Or, what Neolith said. In fact, just ignore everything I've been saying, because he's saying it a whole lot better.

I'd complain more about the outrage about the terminology used to refer to detention-camp-but-no-not-a-gulag Camp XRay, but I just read in the Washington Post that:

In the past week, traffic on Amnesty's Web site has gone up sixfold, donations have quintupled and new memberships have doubled.
I urge more outrage at the term, and look forward to continuous blogger discussion 24/7.

Number one gets us deeper into number two! There is a bumpersticker or t-shirt in there somewhere.

I urge more outrage at the term, and look forward to continuous blogger discussion 24/7.

Without a loss in coherency, please.

I'm certainly willing to issue a public statement in the event that AI's little gambit (assuming it was intentional) pans out. Not that their usage was appropriate, but their wrongness will have had precisely the right and desired effect.

Slarti,

"No, I'm saying that...look, can you envision that the use of the word "gulag" had any salutory effect in the administration, WRT Gitmo and the like? I can't, unless you imagine that it's salutory that the administration is, if possible, disregarding AI's opinion even more than it was a couple of weeks ago."

Since I view the chance of the Administration caring about AI's opinion of its detention centers, regardless of the words AI used, as so close to 0 that any change is immeasuarable, that is not what's driving my view of this. What has changed is that this is now discussed far more openly than it had been a month ago, largely due to the g-word being used. And that is the only thing that may possibly change whether this blemish on our country's good name is actually dealt with prior to this Administration leaving office.

In the past week, traffic on Amnesty's Web site has gone up sixfold, donations have quintupled and new memberships have doubled.

This seems to follow. Because of the outrage, AI has more money and more members. But if they aren't changing minds, and therefore doing their job of promoting human rights, then we're talking about reward and justification for counterproductive behavior. Did they?

"I don't know when Amnesty ceased to be politically neutral or at what point its leaders' views morphed into ordinary anti-Americanism."

rhetorical hogwash. pure grade A pro-administration bullshit.

she knows exactly when AI ceased to be politically neutral; it happened when AI so embarrassed the administration that it was forced into sending out its defenders to counter-attack, i.e., once the gulag comment was put in the 4werd.

just look at this thread. why, in god's name, are we talking about AI's comment and not talking about the LIES that Busch and Cheney told in response? Why is AI's rhetoric unacceptable, but the Bush/Cheney/Applebaum rhetoric is not?

how many reports on the american gulag have sunk without a trace? what were the consequences of the Taguba report? why isn't General Miller facing war crimes charges?

Von, i am well aware that you are not an administration apologist. but christ on a crutch you are focusing on the wrong issue.

what is the quantum of misery before "gulag" becomes appropriate? how many deaths? beatings? torture? due process violations? [This is not a rhetorical question; does "gulag" like "holocaust" belong to one historical event only or can it be used in other circumstances? If so, when?]

what the hell ever happened to holding ourselves to a higher standard?

Shorter Anne Applebaum: Although the two situations are similar in numerous particular details, there are still some constraints on the US ability to to do whatever it wants at Gitmo (and similar camps elsewhere) which did not apply to the Soviet gulag. That means that Gitmo is different "in character" from a gulag, and therefore AI's use of that term proves that AI is anti-American.

Another brilliant scholar without a lick of common sense. Or in the immortal words of Bill the Cat: Ththbbthttbt!

Tac: it's very kind of you to speak for the entirety of the public on the matter of what merits esteem. If you weren't around to tell us how public esteem works I might have blithely gone my way thinking that I hadn't just lost some.

von: I, like Anderson, would like to know the correct word for "an extralegal camp into which prisoners can be cast and held indefinitely with no meaningful process for years."

I'm certainly willing to issue a public statement in the event that AI's little gambit (assuming it was intentional) pans out. Not that their usage was appropriate, but their wrongness will have had precisely the right and desired effect.

When and if this happens, consider my name attached to the public statement. It will also profoundly alter how I view the effects of debate and discussion on public policy, and force me to totally re-evaluate how I approach politics in general. Won't be the first time.

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