- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 19, 2005

Amnesty responds

History is littered with people who remained silent in the face of abuse. In doing so, the only cause they helped was to allow more abuse to take place with impunity. Amnesty International is not prepared to join their ranks (“Amnesty astray,” Commentary, June 6).

When we published our Report 2005, an annual assessment of global human rights abuses in 149 countries around the world, we included a section on the United States and highlighted, among the criticisms, U.S. practices in the “war on terror,” including indefinite detention without charge or trial, and torture.

This triggered an unprecedented verbal attack from senior figures in the administration, including President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers.

The language used in our Report 2005 was clear. We were not suggesting, as some have interpreted it, that Soviet gulags and Guantanamo are mirror-equivalent abuses. Our argument was that both are symbols of human rights abuses in their respective eras.

The mistreatment of detainees at Guantanamo is a disgrace to American values as much as to international standards. A detention center in which detainees are held virtually incommunicado, without charge, trial or access should be condemned by the American people and all those concerned with truth, justice and freedom.

The U.S. actions are also a propaganda gift to armed groups that carry out brutal acts of violence and a distraction from the need to ensure that such people are brought to proper justice.

Guantanamo is not alone. It is just the visible tip of an iceberg of abuse, the most notorious link in a chain of detention camps ranging from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan to prisons in Iraq and elsewhere.

Evidence and reports of abuse, torture and murder continue to seep out of this shadowy network of detention centers. Yet, despite concern at home and abroad, the administration has failed to carry out a full, independent investigation.

The fact is that U.S. interrogation and detention policies and practices in the context of the “war on terror” have deliberately and systematically breached the absolute ban on torture and ill-treatment inscribed in international treaties. Mr. Rumsfeld personally approved a December 2002 memorandum that permitted unlawful interrogation techniques, including stress positions, prolonged isolation, stripping and the use of dogs at Guantanamo Bay.

This cavalier attitude toward internationally agreed principles of justice and freedom is unlawful and is doing immense damage to the framework of human rights and to the moral authority of the United States to champion human rights. This problem was acknowledged June 7 by former President Jimmy Carter, who said, “The U.S. now suffers terrible embarrassment and a blow to our reputation as a champion of human rights because of what has actually happened in the prisons of Afghanistan and Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.” It is sending a signal to repressive governments around the world that some abuses, including torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, is acceptable.

The abuses must stop. Guantanamo Bay and other U.S. detention facilities operating around the world should be brought into full compliance with international law and standards and be opened to scrutiny by international organizations.

Those responsible, right up the chain of command, must be held accountable.

Amnesty International has carefully compiled numerous reports over the past few years. We have published hundreds of pages of evidence and reports of serious human rights abuse by U.S. agents in the “war on terror.” The Bush administration has failed to respond to any of these reports, in stark contrast to its rhetorical and defensive response to the launch of our 2005 report.

The administration clearly feels that attack is the best form of defense. That is fine. After more than 40 years of denouncing human rights abuse wherever it occurs, Amnesty International has become used to being attacked by governments of all types and forms. It usually shows that we are on target.

What is not fine is the failure of the administration to address the substance or detail of Amnesty International’s concerns. It does not matter when Mr. Cheney says he doesn’t take Amnesty International seriously, but it does matter whether he and his colleagues take human rights seriously.

The current debate provides the administration with the perfect opportunity to prove that it is prepared to close the rhetoric-reality gap and to address the substantive concerns that Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have highlighted repeatedly over the past few years.

Mr. Bush, the challenge is simple. Stop, investigate and prosecute the abuses. Reassert the basic principles of justice, truth and freedom in which Americans take so much pride. Make the United States a true force for good in a divided, dangerous world.


Secretary general

Amnesty International


Durbin should be ashamed

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, is a perfect example of what is wrong in Washington and the Democratic Party these days. His comments comparing the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay with the Nazi death camps and Stalin’s gulags are irresponsible, despicable and stupid (“Gitmo called death camp,” Page 1, Thursday). His comments impugn the decency and integrity of every American service person now serving our country.

If I were a member of the media, I would ask Mr. Durbin to provide some evidence to back up these absurd charges, such as the location of the gas chambers and ovens being used in at Gitmo. I would ask him to provide some evidence of prisoners being starved to death instead of being provided three, dietetically correct, square meals a day. I would ask him to provide some evidence of wholesale executions being carried out at the whim of the soldiers stationed there.

Failing to provide this evidence, I would then ask Mr. Durbin to apologize to the men and women of our armed forces who serve our country instead of attempting to undermine our purpose in the war on terror.

He should be ashamed.


New Bern, N.C.

Washington area unsafe to drive

Thank you, Allstate, for quantifying what many of us already know: The Washington area is a dangerous place to drive (“Not in good hands,” June 10, Editorial). Two elements of public policy have made a substantial contribution to this sorry state of affairs.

First, the use of traffic enforcement as a revenue-enhancement mechanism does not make traffic safer. Applying sound engineering practices to traffic intersections and to roads in general does more to increase traffic safety than the installation of cameras.

One very simple measure that increases traffic safety is to increase the duration of yellow lights at intersections. The National Motorists Association notes that “In Fairfax County, Virginia there has been a 96 percent decrease in red light violations at the intersection of US-50 and Fair Ridge Drive, but only after the yellow light time was increased by 1.5 seconds.”

The second aspect of public policy that increases our local accident rate is the manner in which snow removal is addressed. Local governments may save money by allowing snow to accumulate before plowing begins, allowing snow to freeze overnight on the roadways and removing only a portion of the snow that falls, but these practices make our roads treacherous when it snows.

When I first moved here 15 years ago I used to joke that the Soviets could invade and have the place to themselves for a couple of days if they dropped in during a snowstorm.

The inability to properly remove snow, however, is not a joke. It manifests itself in higher accident rates, huge losses in productivity due to time lost at work, and, as Allstate implied, increased insurance rates for those living in this area. It is truly sad that the capital shuts down when it snows.



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