Amnesty International Executive Director William Schulz appeared on “Fox News Sunday” to discuss his colleague’s description of the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as “the gulag of our times.” Those who know history a little bit better than Amnesty’s secretary-general Irene Khan decried her comparison as grossly misinformed, as indeed it was. The only exact comparison to the Soviet gulag is Hitler’s network of concentration camps. Even the secret labor camps of China and North Korea probably fail to rise to Stalin’s standards.
Nevertheless, Mr. Schulz didn’t retract Mrs. Khan’s words. “Clearly this is not an exact or a literal analogy,” he told host Chris Wallace. Rather, he insisted that America’s “archipelago of prisons throughout the world” are “similar in character, if not in size” to the real deal. “The whole point,” he said, is that “we don’t know for sure what all is happening at Guantanamo.” Apparently, he thinks it’s better to err on the side of ridiculous assertions.
There are no defensible comparisons between Guantanamo, or any other U.S. detention center, and the gulag, and the sooner that Amnesty apologizes the better. But Amnesty authorities won’t and to understand why consider this exchange from the interview. Mr. Schulz said: “Chris, I don’t think I’d be on this station, on this program today with you if Amnesty hadn’t said what it said and President Bush and his colleagues haven’t [sic] responded as they did. If I had come to you two weeks ago and said, ‘Chris, I’d like to go on Fox with you to talk about U.S. detention policies at Guantanamo and elsewhere,’ I suspect you wouldn’t have given me an invitation.” To which Mr. Wallace, no dummy journalist, responded, “So you’re saying if you make irresponsible charges, that’s good for your cause?”
Mr. Schulz deflected the question, but the answer he was looking for is yes. According to The Washington Post, in the past week “traffic on Amnesty’s Web site has gone up sixfold, donations have quintupled and new memberships have doubled.” In the world of Bush-bashing activism, unsubstantiated charges directed at the U.S. government — preferably the military — is good for business.
There is, of course, the small matter of credibility. Pentagon investigators recently revealed that of the more than 28,000 interrogations that have taken place at Guantanamo, just 10 charges of abuse were legitimate. Moreover, of the 20 instances of “desecration” of the Koran, 15 were carried out by prisoners, while the rest were inadvertent. Those U.S. personnel responsible for the five instances of desecration have been either reprimanded or reassigned. Not exactly the same as being imprisoned in Siberia, is it?
The tragedy here is that the world needs credible organizations ready to hold governments accountable for human rights abuses. Amnesty International used to be just such an organization. But how will it be able to denounce the real monsters of the world, if now they can just point to the United States as the ultimate abuser of human rights? By waving the bloody shirt, it will be a long time before Amnesty can be trusted again.