Yesterday’s Thoughts

June 11, 2005

Amnesty International Doesn’t Need Me

After finishing off my last post about Anne Applebaum’s logical confusions about Amnesty International’s use of the word gulag in relation to the Untied States, I came across a couple of other tabs that I had kept open because I meant to post something about them.

This article from the New York Times shows that Amnesty doesn’t need my help defending itself.

The official, Kate Gilmore, the group’s executive deputy secretary general, said the administration’s response was “typical of a government on the defensive,” and she drew parallels to the reactions of the former Soviet Union, Libya and Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini, when those governments were accused of human rights abuses.

President Bush called the report “absurd” several times, and said it was the product of people who “hate America.” Vice President Dick Cheney told CNN that he was “offended” by the use of the term and that he did not take the organization “seriously.” And Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld called the comparison “reprehensible.”

Amnesty has fired right back, pointing out that the administration often cites its reports when that suits its purposes. “If our reports are so ‘absurd,’ why did the administration repeatedly cite our findings about Saddam Hussein before the Iraq war?” wrote William F. Schultz, executive director of the group’s United States branch, in a letter to the editor being published Saturday in The New York Times. “Why does it welcome our criticisms of Cuba, China and North Korea? And why does it cite our research in its own annual human rights reports?”

Speaking to a point that Applebaum raised, but I didn’t address before, that the use of the word somehow interfered with the operation of democratic institutions:

In its 308-page human rights report, Amnesty International pointed to an “impunity and accountability deficit,” and called on Congress to conduct “a full and independent investigation of the use of torture and other human rights abuses by U.S. officials” as a starting point in “restoring confidence that true justice has no double standards.”

And on the subject of neutrality

Long used to biting criticism, the group said this was the first time one of its reports had drawn the public wrath of the United States president and vice president, its secretary of defense, its secretary of state and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Ms. Gilmore said the response was telling. “When we see a government at this level engaging in rhetorical attacks and avoiding dealing with the details or the facts,” she said, “we interpret that as being a sign that we are starting to have an impact.”

Another good post on the subject is from Tim Bray. He sets it up with a reference to TV sweeps week programming.

Recently, Amnesty had some pretty harsh things to say about the collateral human-rights damage from the US “War on Terror”. Dick Cheney snarled predictably and the right-wing blogosphere is pushing back mightily: “AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL seems to have flushed its credibility…” and there are pages of outrage based, not on the substance of what Amnesty said, but on their temerity in comparing Gitmo to a gulag; thus, thousands of words explaining that the gulags were much, much worse; indeed they were and that was dopey of Amnesty. But it’s just so totally like how Central American dictators used to say “But the Communists are worse” and Communist governments used to say “But the Apartheid racists are worse” and Apartheid racists used to say “But the black-ruled dictatorships are worse.” I’m not an American, so this is just a hint from a friendly neighbor: being better than the gulags isn’t good enough. When your Neilsen ratings are bad, you need to run better shows, and when Amnesty gets on your case, you need to stop brutalizing people.

I am quoting 95% of the post, but I don’t show the links. Follow it here.

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