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Director of rights group defends critical study

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 1, 2005

The director of Amnesty International USA yesterday dismissed the White House's criticism of his group's latest report on purported U.S. human rights abuses, saying officials were all too willing to applaud Amnesty when its target was Saddam Hussein.

"The Bush administration has regularly relied on Amnesty International when it pleases them," William F. Schulz, who runs the organization's 167-person staff, told The Washington Times. "So if we are such a left-leaning group, why did Donald Rumsfeld rely upon our reports in the run-up to the Iraq war and why is the administration more than happy to cite Amnesty reports on countries such as Cuba, China and North Korea?"

Last week, Amnesty issued its annual report on human rights abuses. Mr. Schulz and Amnesty International's secretary general, Irene Khan, used especially tough language. Mr. Schulz labeled Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other top aides as "architects of torture." Mrs. Khan likened the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- where more than 500 Taliban and al Qaeda suspects are held -- to Soviet-style gulags where millions died under the rule of Josef Stalin.

Vice President Dick Cheney on Monday told CNN's Larry King, "I don't take [Amnesty International] seriously. Frankly, I was offended by it. I think the fact of the matter is, the United States has done more to advance the cause of freedom, has liberated more people from tyranny over the course of the 20th century and up to the present day than any other nation in the history of the world."

Of Mr. Cheney's criticism, Mr. Schulz said, "He clearly does not take the Geneva Convention and international law seriously."

Amnesty International has a history of aligning itself with liberal activists who often oppose the Bush administration.

Mr. Schulz served on the board of directors of two liberal groups, People for the American Way and Planned Parenthood, who worked against Mr. Bush in the 2004 election and are some of the Democratic Party's most important advocates.

Since 2001, Amnesty International has been led by Mrs. Khan, a Bangladesh-born Muslim who studied law at Harvard and now wants to broaden the group's mandate to include social and economic issues.

Amnesty International's Web site states it is "independent of any government, political ideology, economic interest or religion. It does not support or oppose any government."

But the 44-year-old Amnesty International has joined ranks with some of Washington's most liberal groups.

The group co-signed a letter in November 2004 that urged tough Senate questioning of Alberto R. Gonzales during his confirmation as attorney general. The 29 groups with which Amnesty International forged an alliance read like a who's who of anti-Bush groups: National Women's Law Center, People for the American Way, American Civil Liberties Union, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the AFL-CIO.

In 2001, Amnesty International joined scores of other groups, including the AFL-CIO, in demanding the corporations disclose more information about overseas operations.

In the interview yesterday, Mr. Schulz denied his group has a left-wing bias against the administration. "We are equal opportunity offenders," he said. He added he would expend "no energy" in defending Mrs. Khan's use of the word "gulag."

Mr. Schulz said he resigned from the boards of liberal groups when he took over Amnesty International USA in 1994.

Amnesty International has drawn an angry response from the Pentagon for the gulag remark.

"I think it's irresponsible," Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said of Amnesty International's charges. "I think it's absolutely irresponsible."