Gen. Richard B. Myers yesterday condemned as “absolutely irresponsible” an Amnesty International report that compared prisoner treatment at Guantanamo Bay to the Soviet gulag, adding that 100 out of 68,000 detainees held in the war against terrorism were abused.
“It’s very small compared to the population of detainees we’ve handled,” said Gen. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He also noted that many of the abuses have produced courts-martial and other punishments.
The London-based human rights organization called the U.S. facility in Guantanamo Bay “the gulag of our time,” comparing it to the Soviet Union’s slave-labor camps where millions of people died.
Amnesty International also suggested that foreign governments investigate senior U.S. officials involved in “torture scandals” and arrest and question Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, former CIA Director William Tenet, and Vice President Dick Cheney.
“I think it’s irresponsible. I think it’s absolutely irresponsible,” Gen. Myers told “Fox News Sunday.”
“I think I’d ask them to go look up the definition of gulag as commonly understood. We’ve had 68,000 detainees since this conflict against violent extremism started. We’ve had 325 investigations into alleged abuse. We’ve had 100 cases of substantiated abuse and there are 100 individuals that have had some sort of action taken, either court-martial or administrative action,” Gen. Myers said.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, brushed off Amnesty’s suggestion for investigations of top U.S. officials, saying “that isn’t going to happen,” but added that Congress needs to exercise more diligent oversight of military prison conditions and the treatment of detainees.
He told CNN’s “Late Edition” that the Defense Department has adopted uniform rules for the treatment of war prisoners and said all government agencies, including the CIA, should follow suit because reports of prisoner abuse have damaged the reputation of the U.S. military.
“I think Congress has a responsibility in a mature fashion to continue to hold hearings on this issue to make sure that we’re exercising our proper oversight responsibilities and those of us who have traveled in the region cannot overstate the impact that Abu Ghraib and other things that have happened have damaged the image of the United States of America in the Middle East,” Mr. McCain said.
“It isn’t fair. Life isn’t fair. We’ve got to repair that damage,” said Mr. McCain, who was a prisoner of war for five years during the Vietnam War.
Natan Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident sentenced to the gulag, also criticized the Guantanamo comparison, telling Time magazine this week that the Amnesty report lacks credibility.
“I have very serious criticisms of Amnesty. There is no moral clarity. It doesn’t differentiate between what I call fear societies and free societies,” Mr. Sharansky said.
“In the democratic world, there are violations of human rights, but they are revealed and dealt with. In a fear society, there are no violations of human rights because human rights just don’t exist,” said Mr. Sharansky, who now lives in Israel and has served in its parliament and Cabinet. “Amnesty International says it doesn’t support or oppose any political system, so it ends up with reports that show a moral equivalence” among regimes.
Gen. Myers says the detention facility in Guantanamo is a “model facility” in accordance with the Geneva Convention, and that the U.S. spends $2.5 million annually to provide Muslim-approved food and distributed 1,300 Korans in 13 languages.
“But here’s the question that needs to be debated by everybody, and that is: How do you handle people who aren’t part of a nation-state effort, that are picked up on the battlefield, that if you release them or let them go back to their home countries, they would turn right around and try to slit our throats, our children’s throats?” Gen. Myers said.
“We struggle with how to handle them. But we’ve always handled them humanely and with the dignity that they should be accorded,” Gen. Myers said.