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Monday, June 06, 2005

Amnesty Attacks

Amnesty has looked at the world's worst atrocities, and decided that the USA is enemy number one.
An official of Amnesty International said Friday that the term gulag in its annual report to describe the United States prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, was chosen deliberately, and she shrugged off harsh criticism of the report by the Bush administration.
It's reports on Iraq when Saddam was in power make scary reading, yet they are now more condemning of America who have done far more than Saddam in terms of providing access to information, conducting reviews, punishing the guilty and paying compensation.

What they have done on this score may not be enough by a long shot for some people, but I sincerely doubt that any-one reading about the scale and reality of the Gulags can make a fair comparison to an American prison. Comparing Gauntanamo to the Gulags is to also compare the sheer volume of people processed by the Gulags, to compare how many people were put to death in the Gulags, to compare the reasons why millions of people were put into Gulags.

This makes Amnesty look nothing more than a trumped up politcal activist, more keen on destroying America than keeping to the facts. The facts should speak for themselves without having to exaggerate with poor comparisons.

It's reports like this that prepare people to accept trade with truly oppressive regimes as the right thing to do. I wonder how much butter we can sell to China, when they get busy taking back Taiwan? What's the bet Amnesty will issue a report saying we will be guilty of starving people to death if we withhold our butter. We've got to sell it, its the moral thing to do. I just hope there is some left over to ship to North Korea. I think there are a few insurgents in Iraq running low on butter. Maybe we can air drop some in to them, along with a spare LAV to help them in their just cause? I'd hate to think Amnesty singles out NZ for not doing its bit.

Tangental Note: The DomPost reports that the Koran in the toilet episode was found to be untrue. So what was the headline, and what was the last line of the article?
Headline: US admits fault over holy book
Last line: ...Donald Rumsfeld last week defended Guantanamo Bay from criticism by Amnesty International, which called the jail the "gulag of our times"
Are you sure you are not being played?

Posted by ZenTiger | 6/06/2005 10:31:00 am


Blogger ZenTiger said...

Actually, maybe a better heading for the Post would have been "Amnesty - the propganda machine of our times"

6/06/2005 11:22:00 am  
Blogger reid said...

While I don't disagree that the US prisons can't be compared to the gulags Zentiger, I have to say that IMO the US could use its advanced knowledge in psychology and other sciences in a much better way than it currently does, in this area. This BBC4 doco shows extremes (it's filmed in Texas after all). However from all reports, US prisons are not only harsh, they are brutal. There are I believe many cases of inmate rape resulting in AIDS, most sit-coms even joke about becoming someone's bitch inside. How would you like the reality? No-one would, except it keeps happening. That's just one example. (Just google "us prison rape aids" if you doubt the above.)

BTW, I'm not comparing our prisons to theirs, I'm in favour of much longer sentences including life, but my preferred move for prisons is to remove the brutality by, my best thought so far, 24/7 surveillence of every nook, and long sentences for the slightest agressive move.

6/06/2005 11:53:00 am  
Blogger ZenTiger said...

Hi Reid.

As you say in your post, being in a US prison may be brutal. In that one sentence we've moved on from a military prison at Guantanamo to US prisons in general. Why don't we include a Chinese prison in that discussion?

Prisons may need reforming, and human rights might need defending. No argument there.

Putting that aside for a moment, I still see Amnesty putting more emphasis to promote an agenda of America bashing.

American actions are getting centre stage to the point that we are not even keeping perpsective of what alternatives there are to the US system that we apparently want to allow to flourish.

What's life like in a military prison in China? Any tibetans or Taiwanese in there we could ask? Any one know?

Hold America accountable by all means, but by skewing the American issues, by making it centre stage, by exaggerating (will we hear that the Chinese prisons are Gulags of our time?) is not helpful.

6/06/2005 01:57:00 pm  
Blogger moth said...

Who CAN you trust nowadays! I'd always thought of Amnesty as being up there with the UN as pinnacles of honesty, fairness, neutrality, truth....

6/06/2005 05:37:00 pm  
Blogger Matt said...

Since I'm not inclined to blog myself anymore, I'll have to weigh in here.

I'll try to play nice.

First of all, this kerfuffle was initiated by AI director William Schultz, on launching their 2005 International Report, calling Gitmo and the associated international rendition program "the gulags of our times."

This is clearly rhetoric, and as a soundbite it appears to have worked a little too well. However, is it really any different, honestly, from right-wing pundits in New Zealand calling the Government "Helengrad" (Left? Perhaps. But actually Stalinist? Get a grip).

The actual substance of the debate, which has been obfuscated, isn't nearly as rhetorical: The report in question (http://web.amnesty.org/report2005/index-eng )
Isn't soley about the US. It's an international roundup, quite comprehensive, and doesn't use the word "gulag" at all.

In fact, it makes very sober reading, careful to label allegations for what they are, and dealing in facts as opposed to opinions (unlike, say, most blogs).

We'll get to where the "gulag" thread is taking us shortly, but first some samples from the report for those who think "Amnesty is putting more emphasis to promote an agenda of America bashing."

US: "Evidence came to light that the US administration had sanctioned interrogation techniques that violated the UN Convention against Torture;"
And, on 40 people who died after being tasered by police "Most of the people who died were unarmed men who did not appear to pose a serious threat when they were electroshocked. Many were subjected to multiple shocks and some to additional force such as pepper spray or dangerous restraint holds, including hogtying."

China: "There was progress towards reform in some areas, but this failed to have a significant impact on serious and widespread human rights violations perpetrated across the country. Tens of thousands of people continued to be detained or imprisoned in violation of their fundamental human rights and were at high risk of torture or ill-treatment."
And, on Chinese prisons: "Torture and ill-treatment continued to be reported in a wide variety of state institutions despite the introduction of several new regulations aimed at curbing the practice. Common methods included kicking, beating, electric shocks, suspension by the arms, shackling in painful positions, and sleep and food deprivation."

(Interestingly, New Zealand's entire entry concerns Ahmed Zaoui.)

Far from "America bashing" AI puts out the equivilent of "human rights report card" each where pointing out where countries can, and should, do better.

But back to the gulag. Concentrating solely on this phrase, and not the substance of the report, has allowed the White House to develop a straw-man. But disputing that Gitmo is a Gulag doesn't disarm criticism in the actual report that the war on terror is undermining civil liberties.

(Where are the civil-rights libertarians on this issue? I can't belive all SirH contributors are ends-justifies-means neocons.)

Gulags? Probably not. Outside the law? Certainly.

Focussing purely, and solely, on the "gulag" comment is equivalent to judging National (or worse, Labour) solely on those two-word billboards.

Rhetotic? Yes. The whole message? Certainly not.

The smearing of AI by the White House by strawman is disturbing. It smacks of cherry-picking, as its reports are considered and credible (used by the White House on numerous occasions).

True, Amnesty International has it's own ideological perspective (human rights, political freedoms) - but to accuse it as part of a vast-left-wing conspiracy to undermine the US beggars belief.

6/06/2005 05:54:00 pm  
Blogger Matt said...

As an addendum, the "gulag" comment comes from the introduction to the report (the "editorial" if you will). The relevant section, in context, is below:

"The detention facility at Guantánamo Bay has become the gulag of our times, entrenching the practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law. Trials by military commissions have made a mockery of justice and due process.

"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."

6/06/2005 06:03:00 pm  
Blogger ZenTiger said...

Nice reply Matt. I'd agree with much of it except for a few minor points:

1. AI say the use of the term Gulag was deliberate. Even if they are NOT trying to inflame opinion, its great material for mainstream media who haven't held back.

I said on my blog that the facts should stand for themselves. I agree the issues raised in the report need to be addressed. I think any dialogue about it is only hampered by these comments and what the media have made of them.

2. Most people will not read the AI reports, they go off the condensed version. I went on to show how that was exacdtly the case by the DomPost.

I have seen NO REPORTING of the AI content about China, at the very time our glorious leader is in China. But we get stacks on (anti) America.

3. The difference between SH (a political right wing blog of small significance in NZ and zero outside of NZ) versus an International Organisation that will have its "paraphrased summary" read and misued by lmillions? Gee. Not sure.

I can add that if SH was in an equivilent position of influence, then I might wield that influence more repsonsibly.

4. AI are providing the straw man counter by affirming its deliberate use. What do you expect the White House to say when faced with that level of exaggeration. You make it sound like its the White House's fault they take exception to the accusations. Tough. If they dish it, they can take it back.

In the same report that talk about thousands of prisoners in China...

5. I have been going through AI transcripts of there research. I have become a little worried. In interviewing detainees in Iraq, they acepted their word over "mistreatment" ranging from crowded conditions, hand cuffs, on too long, insufficient food and water to being rough handled and beaten by by Iraqi police, whilst US officers watched. However, they got no "other side" of the story on those interviews and simply accepted the word of these people. I not suggesting they are all liars, but it does help to seek out both sides of the story.

6. I'm not accusing it of part of a vast left wing conspiracy per se, but am trying to balance what is now very unbalanced.

AI might be thinking they are acting responsibly, but judging by the fodder they have provided, I disagree.

Finally, I am sick of scanning the internet news sources and blogs reading a very heavy weighting to anti-Americanism. So yes, I'm blogging on this site to be a bit more agressive about these issues in the same way the left are.

Provative, yes. I feel I've got to wave a flag and blow a whistle. Its seems the sheeple are so focused on the wild dog looking back at them, they haven't noticed a pack of hungry wolves coming in from the other side.

We have ways to keep wild dogs back, but the pack of wolves is a bit trickier.

Amnesty (or the media), for all their good intentions, have pulled the wool further down over the sheeples eyes. A swift kick up their rear end might make them think twice about it next time.

6/06/2005 06:35:00 pm  
Blogger Antarctic Lemur said...

There are no similarities between the inmates, conditions of incarceration, or intentions of the Soviet gulags and Gitmo.

Gitmo holds military prisoners, all foreign irregular non-uniformed fighters captured in Afghanistan (and possibly Pakistan) during a war in that region. The Geneva conventions specifically excluded foreign irregular fighters for various reasons. Therefore people who claim the United States is breaking some sort of 'international law' are wrong.

Gitmo is a military prison, holding military prisoners, on a miltary base on foreign soil. Despite that, the US Supreme Court ruled last year (?) all inmates can challenge their imprisonment. However the Supreme Court accepts the prisoners are still military in nature, so the standards of evidence required to keep them captive are much less. Numerous inmates have already been released by the US military, probably because they are not considered dangerous nor hold valuable information.

Amnesty was wrong to draw such a parallel, and they have rightly drawn much ridicule for doing so.

6/06/2005 06:45:00 pm  
Blogger Ackers1 said...

Suddenly, the government of the United States has discovered the virtues of international law. It may be waging an illegal war against a sovereign state; it may be seeking to destroy every treaty which impedes its attempts to run the world, but when five of its captured soldiers were paraded in front of the Iraqi television cameras on Sunday, Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, immediately complained that "it is against the Geneva convention to show photographs of prisoners of war in a manner that is humiliating for them".
He is, of course, quite right. Article 13 of the third convention, concerning the treatment of prisoners, insists that they "must at all times be protected... against insults and public curiosity". This may number among the less heinous of the possible infringements of the laws of war, but the conventions, ratified by Iraq in 1956, are non-negotiable. If you break them, you should expect to be prosecuted for war crimes.

This being so, Rumsfeld had better watch his back. For this enthusiastic convert to the cause of legal warfare is, as head of the defence department, responsible for a series of crimes sufficient, were he ever to be tried, to put him away for the rest of his natural life.

His prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba, where 641 men (nine of whom are British citizens) are held, breaches no fewer than 15 articles of the third convention. The US government broke the first of these (article 13) as soon as the prisoners arrived, by displaying them, just as the Iraqis have done, on television. In this case, however, they were not encouraged to address the cameras. They were kneeling on the ground, hands tied behind their backs, wearing blacked-out goggles and earphones. In breach of article 18, they had been stripped of their own clothes and deprived of their possessions. They were then interned in a penitentiary (against article 22), where they were denied proper mess facilities (26), canteens (28), religious premises (34), opportunities for physical exercise (38), access to the text of the convention (41), freedom to write to their families (70 and 71) and parcels of food and books (72).

They were not "released and repatriated without delay after the cessation of active hostilities" (118), because, the US authorities say, their interrogation might, one day, reveal interesting information about al-Qaida. Article 17 rules that captives are obliged to give only their name, rank, number and date of birth. No "coercion may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever". In the hope of breaking them, however, the authorities have confined them to solitary cells and subjected them to what is now known as "torture lite": sleep deprivation and constant exposure to bright light. Unsurprisingly, several of the prisoners have sought to kill themselves, by smashing their heads against the walls or trying to slash their wrists with plastic cutlery.

The US government claims that these men are not subject to the Geneva conventions, as they are not "prisoners of war", but "unlawful combatants". The same claim could be made, with rather more justice, by the Iraqis holding the US soldiers who illegally invaded their country. But this redefinition is itself a breach of article 4 of the third convention, under which people detained as suspected members of a militia (the Taliban) or a volunteer corps (al-Qaida) must be regarded as prisoners of war.

Even if there is doubt about how such people should be classified, article 5 insists that they "shall enjoy the protection of the present convention until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal". But when, earlier this month, lawyers representing 16 of them demanded a court hearing, the US court of appeals ruled that as Guantanamo Bay is not sovereign US territory, the men have no constitutional rights. Many of these prisoners appear to have been working in Afghanistan as teachers, engineers or aid workers. If the US government either tried or released them, its embarrassing lack of evidence would be brought to light.

You would hesitate to describe these prisoners as lucky, unless you knew what had happened to some of the other men captured by the Americans and their allies in Afghanistan. On November 21 2001, around 8,000 Taliban soldiers and Pashtun civilians surrendered at Konduz to the Northern Alliance commander, General Abdul Rashid Dostum. Many of them have never been seen again.

As Jamie Doran's film Afghan Massacre: Convoy of Death records, some hundreds, possibly thousands, of them were loaded into container lorries at Qala-i-Zeini, near the town of Mazar-i-Sharif, on November 26 and 27. The doors were sealed and the lorries were left to stand in the sun for several days. At length, they departed for Sheberghan prison, 80 miles away. The prisoners, many of whom were dying of thirst and asphyxiation, started banging on the sides of the trucks. Dostum's men stopped the convoy and machine-gunned the containers. When they arrived at Sheberghan, most of the captives were dead.

The US special forces running the prison watched the bodies being unloaded. They instructed Dostum's men to "get rid of them before satellite pictures can be taken". Doran interviewed a Northern Alliance soldier guarding the prison. "I was a witness when an American soldier broke one prisoner's neck. The Americans did whatever they wanted. We had no power to stop them." Another soldier alleged: "They took the prisoners outside and beat them up, and then returned them to the prison. But sometimes they were never returned, and they disappeared."

Many of the survivors were loaded back in the containers with the corpses, then driven to a place in the desert called Dasht-i-Leili. In the presence of up to 40 US special forces, the living and the dead were dumped into ditches. Anyone who moved was shot. The German newspaper Die Zeit investigated the claims and concluded that: "No one doubted that the Americans had taken part. Even at higher levels there are no doubts on this issue." The US group Physicians for Human Rights visited the places identified by Doran's witnesses and found they "all... contained human remains consistent with their designation as possible grave sites".

It should not be necessary to point out that hospitality of this kind also contravenes the third Geneva convention, which prohibits "violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture", as well as extra-judicial execution. Donald Rumsfeld's department, assisted by a pliant media, has done all it can to suppress Jamie Doran's film, while General Dostum has begun to assassinate his witnesses.

It is not hard, therefore, to see why the US government fought first to prevent the establishment of the international criminal court, and then to ensure that its own citizens are not subject to its jurisdiction. The five soldiers dragged in front of the cameras yesterday should thank their lucky stars that they are prisoners not of the American forces fighting for civilisation, but of the "barbaric and inhuman" Iraqis.

6/06/2005 07:54:00 pm  
Blogger Ackers1 said...

Can you please explain to me AL why these people are being held at Guantanamo Bay? Is there some reason why they are being held in a territory that in any sane universe would not be US territory? If you are so convinced that International Law and Geneva Conventions do not apply to these people why are they not sitting in a prison cell in Manhattan?

6/06/2005 08:02:00 pm  
Blogger Adolf Fiinkensein said...

Can you please explain to me Ackers1 why you seem incapable of coherent comment within the normal polite restraints of 'brevity and succinct argument' Don't you know the rules? God help you if you ever get into a debate with a two minute time limit.

6/06/2005 08:09:00 pm  
Blogger Lucyna said...

Didn't happen longer ago than "yesterday"? Ackers1, have you lifted an article from somewhere and posted it here? If so, could you give a reference? And maybe next time, just post a link and just a paragraph or two rather than the whole thing.

6/06/2005 08:19:00 pm  
Blogger Roger said...

Goodness me, that post had a lot of information in it.
"Jamie Doran's film Afghan Massacre"? What is that? What is it about? I don't recall hearing anything about this on CNN or Fox News, or in the WashPost etc. Maybe I was asleep that week.
I am curious as to whether the points ackers makes will be disputed, or removed, or what.
From what I can tell from what he wrote the Yanks aren't playin' by the rules.

6/06/2005 09:17:00 pm  
Blogger Roger said...

I have just discovered the source of the report by ackers. It is a ZNet story, link here:

6/06/2005 09:56:00 pm  
Blogger Lawrence said...

Goodness Adolf, I thought they were fair comments - steady on. Have you read Time magazine this week? 40 people released in the last X months who were innocent? None of us would enjoy that?

Gulag might be too strong, but hey, let’s not become blind US supporters.

Of course not all average Americans agree with Bush - http://ray.camdenfamily.com/index.cfm?mode=entry&entry=3535BF3E-0CF1-AD06-9B9203B56FCFD155

6/06/2005 10:05:00 pm  
Blogger Lucyna said...

If Gitmo was a real gulag, being innocent made no difference.

6/06/2005 10:13:00 pm  
Blogger Adolf Fiinkensein said...

Lawrence, the point was about length not content.

6/07/2005 01:08:00 am  
Blogger Philu said...

um, what would you call a country that has 5% of the worlds population..and 25% of the worlds prisoners..?

where one black american male in three (33%) will serve a term of imprisonment at some stage in their life..against 5% for whites..?

the land of the brave and the home of the free..?


6/07/2005 08:48:00 am  
Blogger Ackers1 said...

Apologies for posting the entire article and not providing the link. I thought it was worth reading the entire article and as soon as it was known it was Monbiot and the Guardian I'm sure half the intended audience would have switched off and said it's crap. I'm still interested in a response to my 2nd posting - "If you are so convinced that International Law and Geneva Conventions do not apply to these people why are they not sitting in a prison cell in Manhattan?"

6/07/2005 09:22:00 am  
Blogger ZenTiger said...

ackers1: I'm sorry that my current workload prevents me from properly discussing the issues you raise at this time. (I'll put a PAYPAL thingy on my blog - maybe the CIA will drop an anonymous donation of $1 million to allow me to blab on full time!) I am not sure when I can get back to you on the other issues - maybe others will, or I might get time to link a few other blogs saying much the same thing.

Your first post, where you deviate somewhat and discuss every thing BUT the effect on the media Amnesty's use of the term Gulag has on shaping opinions gave me a great idea.

I spent several hours researching to see who would win Amnesty's Gulag of the Year award.

I figure, if we are going to accept this term, we may as well apply it to the gulagiest prison in the World.

After one hour research into the Australian Detention Centres, I thought I'd have a clear winner (I'm saving the killer links for my main post). Even looking at some of the stories behind 1500 detainees in England, including beatings and deaths in custody, I thought the Aussies had the edge. Gitmo? Try locking up kids for 4 years where an 8 year old attempts suicide.

And then I found some serious contenders....

So we can catalogue mans list of inhumanity, and focus on the Americans to hold them accountable to the highest standards. Fine. Damn good idea, if done in a responsible way.

But don't make them out to be the worst and then let the press get away with mis-using the terms.

6/07/2005 09:44:00 am  
Blogger reid said...

Well while I acknowledge the power or words (which is why AI chose that), I wonder about the real effect of using that word on people's opinions.

Would it change many people's point of view? I can't see it. Most people who are interested in this relatively arcane topic have already made their minds up about Gitmo, the US "war on terror", etc.

Those of us on this and the say, million other political blogs, are exceptions. Most people are entranced with the MJ trial. Look at the Crowe story on tonights news for an example of where mainstream "thinking" is.

An AI report like this is not going to change world opinion more than a fraction.

But they're doing their best to do just that.

6/07/2005 10:34:00 pm  
Blogger ZenTiger said...

And so am I. But I'm just getting started.

6/07/2005 10:46:00 pm  

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