Monday, June 6, 2005

The head of Amnesty International’s American branch yesterday acknowledged that he “doesn’t know for sure” what is going on at Guantanamo Bay prison, although Amnesty International’s secretary-general has called the terrorist prison run at a U.S. military base in Cuba a “gulag.”

However, William F. Schulz defended the description made last week by Irene Khan, saying on “Fox News Sunday” yesterday that America’s “archipelago of prisons throughout the world” are “similar in character, if not in size” to the Soviet gulags, where millions of political prisoners were killed.

“I don’t believe [the charges] are irresponsible,” said Mr. Schulz, the executive director of Amnesty International U.S.A. “I’ve told you the ways in which I think that [there are] analogies between the Soviet prison system and the United States.”

Pressed to cite concrete evidence that Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales are the “architects” of “systematic torture” at the prison, Mr. Schulz could produce none.

“We don’t know for sure what all is happening at Guantanamo and our whole point is that the United States ought to allow independent human rights organizations to investigate,” Mr. Schulz said, adding that Amnesty International was careful to use the word “alleged” when accusing high-level Bush administration officials.

More than 28,000 interrogations have taken place at the prison and a report released by Pentagon investigators revealed that 10 charges of abuse were legitimate.

The Pentagon also reported last week that of 20 instances of “desecration” of the Muslim holy book, the Koran, 15 were carried out by prisoners. All of the guards who committed the offenses — most of them inadvertent — were reprimanded and/or reassigned.

Mr. Schulz, who gave the maximum amount of $2,000 to Mr. Kerry’s presidential campaign, said his political preferences are irrelevant to the report that is harshly critical of Bush administration policies.

“We try to hold up one universal standard for all countries,” Mr. Schulz said, adding that the report accusing the U.S. of running a gulag was written by Amnesty International researchers in London. “It has nothing to do with John Kerry.”

Two senators, a Democrat and a Republican, suggested yesterday that Congress or an independent commission would hold hearings on the accusations of prisoner abuse at the hands of U.S. forces abroad.

“We should have an independent commission to go take a look at this, not only Guantanamo, but Abu Ghraib, the rest of the prison system, make a recommendation to the United States Congress, and let’s deal with this openly,” said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, on ABC’s “This Week,” adding that he wants the prison at Guantanamo Bay “shut down.”

“This has become the greatest propaganda tool that exists for recruiting of terrorists around the world, and it is unnecessary to be in that position,” he said.

Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, called Amnesty International’s “gulag comment utterly outrageous,” but acknowledged “it’s very difficult to run a perfect prison.”

“We have an open country,” Mr. McConnell said yesterday on CNN’s “Late Edition.”

“We have hearings on a whole lot of different subjects. We might well have a hearing on this,” he said.

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