Amnesty International and a Culture of Life

In the rush to prevent the “the dismemberment of living, distinct human beings” (said Tom DeLay in a fit of melodrama, equating cell division to real, live people) the United States has conveniently redefined a culture of life to disregard or outright deny human rights to, you know, humans.

Amnesty International has branded Guantanamo prison as “the gulag of our time” in addition to other scathing assertions about American detention centers around the world.

the US government has gone to great lengths to restrict the application of the Geneva Conventions and to “re-define” torture. It has sought to justify the use of coercive interrogation techniques, the practice of holding “ghost detainees” (people in unacknowledged incommunicado detention) and the “rendering” or handing over of prisoners to third countries known to practise torture. The detention facility at Guantánamo Bay has become the gulag of our times, entrenching the practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law. Trials by military commissions have made a mockery of justice and due process.

The USA, as the unrivalled political, military and economic hyper-power, sets the tone for governmental behaviour worldwide. When the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights, it grants a licence to others to commit abuse with impunity and audacity. From Israel to Uzbekistan, Egypt to Nepal, governments have openly defied human rights and international humanitarian law in the name of national security and “counter-terrorism”.

The report offers a radical solution to at least some of the inhumanity done in the names of American citizens: close Guantanamo Bay. My knee-jerk reaction is total agreement. If one doesn’t believe this will have some sort of positive consequence on a micro level, one only has to look at the anti-American sentiments, and the rioting, and the bombings, and the overall general violence generated by American military presence in the Middle East over the last year. Closing Guantanamo, or even Abu Ghraib, would send a message that we are serious about the rhetoric of peace and common humanity that so often flows out of Washington, and begin a renewal of commitment to these values of human dignity that most American citizens openly endorse.

Brief international goodwill, a la the Indian tsunami, is not enough to cultivate a true global community no matter our intentions.

Unfortunately,

Economic interests, political hypocrisy and socially orchestrated discrimination continued to fan the flames of conflict around the world. The so-called “war on terror” appeared more effective in eroding the international framework of human rights principles than in countering the threat of international “terrorism”. The security of women facing gender-based violence in the home, in the community or in situations of conflict barely received attention. The economic, social and cultural rights of marginalized communities continued to be largely ignored.

A true culture of life is one that does not perpetuate a rule of law that says human rights only matter in times without conflict. One cannot fight terrorism as it is currently defined with bombs, tanks, guns, and prisons. If one wants to reduce terrorist acts, state-sponsored or not, one must first look to the root causes: racism, ethnocentrism, xenophobia, misogyny, invisibility, strict fundamentalism, limited resources, lack of educational opportunity, economic hardship, the spirit of revenge, and the desire for complete consolidation of power.

The solutions to these do not lie in gunpowder.

For interested readers, the Baltimore Sun provides a synopsis of the Amnesty International report and responses from the U.S. government.


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33 comments for “Amnesty International and a Culture of Life

  1. May 25, 2005 at 3:05 pm

    The death rate in the USSR’s Gulag Archipelago, you know, real gulags, was roughly 10-30 percent per year. If Gitmo is a gulag for our times, we’re living in much kinder and gentler times.

    This report really goes to show the ridiculous lengths to which Amnesty International will go to smear the U.S. Not to say that there are some things about Gitmo that could be improved–that’s probably true about any prison– but a gulag? Come on.

  2. May 25, 2005 at 3:17 pm

    That was strong language, Shankar, but I believe it serves its purpose as a metaphor.

  3. BillyHW
    May 25, 2005 at 3:17 pm

    It’s really sad how Amnesty International has been hijacked by radical leftist ideologues.

  4. May 25, 2005 at 3:22 pm

    Like the Geneva Convention was radical leftist ideology. Buh-bye.

  5. May 25, 2005 at 3:33 pm

    I would hope that the purpose of Amnesty International reports is to clearly communicate abuses of human rights. In this case, the metaphor is not accurate. Gitmo is not anything like a gulag, and to suggest that it is insults not only the Americans who serve there, but also the tens of millions of people who died in the Soviet gulags. How many detainees at Camp X-Ray have died? I can’t find a single incidence (although that doesn’t mean there aren’t any).

    And nevermind that the very purpose of gulags were to kill, through starvation and forced labor. Compared to a Soviet gulag, Gitmo is like a suite at the Ritz.

    So what, exactly, is the purpose of this metaphor?

  6. May 25, 2005 at 3:36 pm

    From the recent Guantanamo decision (p. 61): Counsel for [the government] argued that the Executive has the authority to detain the following individuals until the conclusion of the war on terrorism: “a little old lady in Switzerland who writes checks to what she thinks is a charity that helps orphans in Afghanistan but what really is a front to finance al-Qaeda activities.”

    Yeah, I’d say that the Guantanamo process “could be improved.” I’d say there’s a greater disconnect between the U.S. Constitution and this travesty than there is between Stalin and the Soviet gulags.

  7. May 25, 2005 at 3:43 pm

    I’d say there’s a greater disconnect between the U.S. Constitution and this travesty than there is between Stalin and the Soviet gulags.

    Amnesty International should hire you. That’s a much better argument. But it’s not the argument they made.

  8. May 25, 2005 at 3:45 pm

    Sorry about two posts in a row, but you can also see this chart concerning military tribunals at Guantanamo (produced by far-left, America-hating agitators at the Economist, naturally): detainees are afforded precisely one-sixth the rights of criminal defendants in South Africa during Apartheid.

    And be sure to ask for the spa treatment at the Ritz; I think it includes water-boarding and being chained to a floor without food for 48 hours.

  9. May 25, 2005 at 3:54 pm

    They sure loved Amnesty International when they got to write letters in support of Eastern European prisoners of conscience, many of whom arrived in the USA and declared it to be corrupt in its own special way (e.g. Alexander Solzhenitsyn).

    Amnesty has stuck to judging behavior by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It now considers the actions of the terrorists and rebel movements that the Right so hates to be cause for censure. That was directly in response to criticism that it did not pay attention to atrocities commited by extragovernmental partisans.

    This is because Amnesty is fair. But the Right wants an organization which will turn a blind eye to what is being done here in America.

    Sorry, but if it did that, it would no longer have credibility elsewhere in the world or with many Americans.

    Attacking Amnesty is like attacking the Beatitudes.

  10. May 25, 2005 at 4:12 pm

    I only mentioned the phrase because it is indeed notably strong language.

    Now that we’ve agreed on that, Shankar, surely you’re not going to ignore very real accusations against American foreign policy to concentrate on one metaphor of a very lengthy, detailed report on the denial and dismissal of human rights around the world.

  11. jam
    May 25, 2005 at 4:49 pm

    i think i agree with Shankar – it is historically obfuscatory (try to say that 10 times fast!) to dub Gitmo the “gulag of our times” – it really doesn’t compare in terms of numbers, organizational structure or political context…

    that said, i think it’s clear that both, ultimately speaking, serve the same purpose, yes?

  12. May 25, 2005 at 4:50 pm

    No, certainly not. I do, however, think it’s foolish to link the denial and dismissal of human rights around the world to the War on Terror as this report does. Repressive regimes have existed for a long, long time before the War on Terror began. Maybe fighting terrorists is their excuse du jour for mistreating their citizens, but if it weren’t the war on terror, it would be something else.

    Plus, my point isn’t just that the metaphor is strong, it’s that it’s bad, off-base, inapt. Gitmo is nothing like a gulag. Do you think the comparison is appropriate?

  13. May 25, 2005 at 4:58 pm

    That first “no, certainly not” was directed at Lauren’s post.

    Now, this “no, certainly not” is directed at Jam’s. Your assertion that they serve the same purpose is totally ridiculous. The purpose of Gitmo is to detain and question prisoners taken in the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as other foreign national terrorism suspects. The purpose of the gulags was to murder tens of millions of people through starvation, forced labor, beatings and torture.

    If you really, honestly believe that Gitmo and the Soviet gulags are designed for the same purposes, you have a seriously damaged moral compass.

  14. Sydney
    May 25, 2005 at 5:04 pm

    I don’t think it’s at all ridiculous to link the denial and dismissal of human right to the war on terror. The war on terror has provided the United States with a convenient excuse to deny human rights to the people they classify as insurgents, enemies of the states, and whatever loaded terms they can come up with. The article is stating that the United States (as a world leader and supposedly as an example to the rest of the world of freedom and democracy) regularly betrays the principles it claims to stand for when it suits their needs. This attitude of “I don’t give a f***” is one that sets an unfortunate precedent and makes us look like hypocrites. How can we condemn other countries for their behavior and human rights violations? I mean I’m sure that to the Palestinians, people from Israel are terrorists. Does this mean they can commit human rights crimes in the name of stopping terrorism?

    Also, by getting tied down by the metaphor issue, you’re missing the whole point of the article. Attacking minor details and insulting the source of information is a tactic republicans use when they don’t have an adequate response. Stop behaving like most republicans and focus on the point of the article.

  15. BillyHW
    May 25, 2005 at 9:13 pm

    If you really, honestly believe that Gitmo and the Soviet gulags are designed for the same purposes, you have a seriously damaged moral compass.

    Shankar: We’re dealing with people who think partial birth abortion is a human right and should be paid for with public money. Of course they have a seriously damaged moral compass.

  16. Quisp
    May 25, 2005 at 9:32 pm

    Ruskies, terrorists, Liberals, women — bad.
    USA, Jeebus — good.

    No, it seems my moral compass is fully operational.

  17. May 25, 2005 at 9:48 pm

    Knowing Shankar personally, I can’t wait to hear what he thinks of Billy considering him a kindred spirit and, apparently, a brother in the battle against evil feminists. Does this mean we can’t be friends anymore?

  18. May 25, 2005 at 11:23 pm

    In the course of my life, I’ve met all kinds of people who think Amnesty International isn’t fair, that it is really a tool of the other side. Among these have been conservative Americans, Palestinians, Israelis, defenders of Pinochet, apologists for Castro, Croats, Serbs, Communists, capitalists, etc. etc.

    Amnesty questioned American policy under Clinton and under Bush. How can they do that? Because instead of looking at partisan politics like some commentators would have it, Amnesty refers to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and measures each country, each leader by that. In Amnesty’s eyes, doings on both sides of the fence at Guantamano are reason for concern.

    A human rights violation is a human rights violation is a human rights violation. That so many people of different political persuasions are mad at Amnesty suggests to me that Amnesty is fair, that it is doing its job. That is why we should take notice when Amnesty speaks.

    If we don’t like the term “gulag”, maybe we should ask why AI chose this word before we condemn it. What similarities did it see? So far, I’ve seen protest but no effort to understand.
    —-

    A blogger who rigorously opposes the use of torture no matter who does it is Randy of Beautiful Horizons. I am impressed by his integrity and commitment to human rights:

    http://beautifulhorizons.typepad.com/weblog/

  19. Quisp
    May 25, 2005 at 11:49 pm

    So US policy that embraces torture and leads to the torture and murder of innocent people known not to be terrorists is somehow let off the hook because…wait for it…we haven’t killed millions of people yet. I would have thought hard evidence of ONE PERSON being tortured by Americans would have been enough for a shit-storm of scandal. Forget the President condoning it. Forget the person being innocent. Forget people smiling in the fucking pictures. Forget people DYING. Just one actually guilty terrorist being TORTURED by AMERICAN SOLDIERS, that should have been enough to bring the skies down around those guilty of these acts. The point of the gulag analogy is that’s what fucking happened there. To say, yeah, but it happened a million times there, whereas we have only done it a couple dozen times …

    Remember the exchange Oscar Wilde is said to have had with, I don’t know who, some snotty socialite, I guess. Wilde asks her if she would sleep with him for a million pounds. She says she would. He says, will you sleep with me for a pound? She is taken aback. “What do you think I am?” He says, “we have already established what you are, madam. Now we are negotiating the price.”

  20. jam
    May 26, 2005 at 7:03 am

    Shankar says: Now, this “no, certainly not” is directed at Jam’s. Your assertion that they serve the same purpose is totally ridiculous. The purpose of Gitmo is to detain and question prisoners taken in the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as other foreign national terrorism suspects.

    if that’s the purpose of Gitmo (& therefore, i assume, of places like Abu Ghraib, Bagram & any number of fly-by-night regimes the US is currently using for rendition purposes) then please tell me why they are using torture, given that officials from the military, the FBI & the CIA have all stated that torture does not in fact produce any worthwhile information whatsoever? also, if they’re “prisoners” taken in “the fighting” then why aren’t they being accorded the legal rights of prisoners of war?

    also, i’d love it if you could expand on what exactly qualifies one as a “foreign national terrorism suspect,” especially in light of all the folks recently released from Gitmo (y’know, the ones found to have nothing to do with “foreign national terrorism”)

    the purpose of the Gulag was as much to serve as a reminder of absolute state power to the people of the USSR as it was to conveniently dispose of & utilize the slave labor of anyone deemed a criminal & dissident. as before, i agree with you that Gitmo doesn’t even come close to the scale of the Gulag. but as far as being utilized as a symbol of terror by a state power i do believe the two institutions serve the same purpose.

    sorry, i guess i didn’t send away enough box-tops to get that neato compass you speak of… does it spin & stuff? do you want to trade it for my decoder ring?

  21. May 26, 2005 at 10:21 am

    also, i’d love it if you could expand on what exactly qualifies one as a “foreign national terrorism suspect,” especially in light of all the folks recently released from Gitmo (y’know, the ones found to have nothing to do with “foreign national terrorism”)

    Foreign national = a citizen of a country that is not the U.S.
    Terrorism suspect = Someone who is suspected of being involved in terrorism.

    Hopefully, you can put it together from there. But yeah, the folks that were released from Gitmo who had nothing to do with terrorism — that’s why they were released. Go figure.

    i agree with you that Gitmo doesn’t even come close to the scale of the Gulag. but as far as being utilized as a symbol of terror by a state power i do believe the two institutions serve the same purpose.

    If Gitmo is supposed to be a symbol of terror by state power, then the U.S. government is screwing up horribly. Compared to the Cuban prisons it shares the island with, Gitmo is a joke. Compared to the way Saddam ran it before the U.S. tossed him out, Abu Ghraib is a joke. In the countries that the people you claim are supposed to be terrorized come from, secret police routinely torture people to death, with the full blessings of their governments. People like Bin Laden and Al-Zaqarwi probably laugh their asses off at our detention practices because they don’t involve regular beheadings.

    Now, I’m not trying to argue that the abuses that happened at Abu Ghraib were okay, nor any abuses that may or may not have taken place at Gitmo. The only argument I’m making here is that comparing Gitmo to a gulag is a really, really poor comparison.

    Re: Jill

    Oh, Jill. You’ve been an evil feminist for all the time I’ve known you, and we’ve still been friends. But I don’t think Billy would consider me a confederate for too long if we were to discuss my views on say, the existance of god and the excellence of premarital sex.

  22. May 26, 2005 at 11:15 am

    For the record, the argument here over the use of the term “Gulag” in the secretary general’s statement ignores what the statement actually says.

    Irene Khan states in the forward to the report, “The detention facility at Guantánamo Bay has become the gulag of our times, entrenching the practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law.”

    Please note that the gulag-like quality being specifically referred to in the statement is the use of “arbitrary and indefinite detention.” Everyone here is arguing over weather the shoe fits or does not fit generally, while the statement itself clarifies the meaning of the reference.

    Is there disagreement over the facts of this? Camp X-Ray employs arbitrary (that is, individuals brought there are not afforded rights of habeus corpus) and indefinite (that is, individuals brought here are held, well, indefinitely, despite proving their standing before the U.S. Supreme Court, are still unable to sue for their release, nor has the state been required to bring actual charges against them in order to continue holding them) detention (i think we can all agree that these individuals are being detained).

    Did the gulag system of the soviet union also employ arbitrary and indefinite detention? Yes.

  23. jam
    May 26, 2005 at 11:27 am

    Shankar writes: But yeah, the folks that were released from Gitmo who had nothing to do with terrorism — that’s why they were released. Go figure.

    how cavalier of you – you fail to mention that they were released without compensation or explanation after years of being imprisoned, tortured & terrorized. go figure.

    actually, let’s do that. let’s figure it out: what kind of message do you think is being sent here? that the US is concerned with human rights & equality before law? or that the US will do whatever it wants to whoever it wants and will get away with it & there’s nothing you can do about it. unaccountable state power is by definition terrorist insofar as it rules through the fear of indiscriminate violence. it is the fact that the innocent are afforded no manner of protection

    Compared to the Cuban prisons it shares the island with, Gitmo is a joke. Compared to the way Saddam ran it before the U.S. tossed him out, Abu Ghraib is a joke.

    i’d really like to hear you explain to the folks imprisoned in Gitmo & Abu Ghraib how much of a “joke” their experiences are… comfy sitting behind your computer there?

    In the countries that the people you claim are supposed to be terrorized come from, secret police routinely torture people to death, with the full blessings of their governments. People like Bin Laden and Al-Zaqarwi probably laugh their asses off at our detention practices because they don’t involve regular beheadings.

    oh goodie – the “we’re not as bad as some folk, so there!” argument. always a winner. and by the way, by “countries that the people you claim are supposed to be terrorized come from” do you mean those countries the US is sending such folks to for “rendition”? whose blessings are in operation there in wonder?

    Now, I’m not trying to argue that the abuses that happened at Abu Ghraib were okay, nor any abuses that may or may not have taken place at Gitmo.

    really? certainly sounds that way… especially since you’ve thus far described both as a “joke” & to Gitmo as a “suite at the Ritz”

    The only argument I’m making here is that comparing Gitmo to a gulag is a really, really poor comparison.

    if so, i think i already agreed with you. but you do seem fixated on this metaphor problem instead of dealing with the ramifications of Amnesty’s report, as others have pointed out. either that or you just like asserting your moral superiority… which, if that’s your goal, assert away! i really don’t mind if you want to feel more righteous. hell, it should be easy for you! like Billyboy said above i’m all for ripping wee babies from the womb & frying ’em up for brunch just so the ladieeez can have swinging sex in public, donchaknow…

    mmm… fried babies for brunch.

  24. jam
    May 26, 2005 at 11:31 am

    oops…

    where it says above “it is the fact that the innocent are afforded no manner of protection” should have continued into:

    it is the fact that the innocent are afforded no manner of protection or legal redress which demonstates this.

  25. May 26, 2005 at 11:41 am

    i really don’t mind if you want to feel more righteous. hell, it should be easy for you! like Billyboy said above i’m all for ripping wee babies from the womb & frying ‘em up for brunch just so the ladieeez can have swinging sex in public, donchaknow…

    mmm… fried babies for brunch.

    Wha?

  26. jam
    May 26, 2005 at 11:46 am

    BillyHW wrote earlier – Shankar: We’re dealing with people who think partial birth abortion is a human right and should be paid for with public money.

    sorry for the confusion – i assumed you read the whole thread. i was just upping the ante a bit so you wouldn’t have to worry that your compass is better than my decoder ring.

    well, that i wanted to do a quick drive-by on Billy’s nonsense…

  27. May 26, 2005 at 1:06 pm

    Yeah, I figured. I just was momentarily confused by being associated in any way with Billy.

  28. Thomas
    May 26, 2005 at 2:06 pm

    Quisp, the line you’re referring to is generally attributed to Winston Churchill (as is “in the morning I shall be sober, but you will still be ugly.”)

  29. Quisp
    May 26, 2005 at 3:01 pm

    Actually, I meant Shaw, not Wilde.

  30. jam
    May 26, 2005 at 4:13 pm

    gah…

    just noticed another bit of confusion… earlier & above should read:

    Shankar said: Compared to the Cuban prisons it shares the island with, Gitmo is a joke. Compared to the way Saddam ran it before the U.S. tossed him out, Abu Ghraib is a joke.

    then Jam said: i’d really like to hear you explain to the folks imprisoned in Gitmo & Abu Ghraib how much of a “joke” their experiences are… comfy sitting behind your computer there?

    Shankar also said: In the countries that the people you claim are supposed to be terrorized come from, secret police routinely torture people to death, with the full blessings of their governments. People like Bin Laden and Al-Zaqarwi probably laugh their asses off at our detention practices because they don’t involve regular beheadings.

    etcetera…

    sorry for the formatting errors – yeesh! no wonder it was confusing, Shankar… oh, & apologies for the inadvertent association with Billyboy. it’s true we’re having a disagreement & all, but i really wasn’t trying to stoop that low…

    p.s. Ms. Lauren, is there a reason why the previewing is only displaying in blockcaps with no italics or links displayed? just wondering… i’m sure hacking WordPress is prolly not high on yr list of fun-things-to-do

  31. May 27, 2005 at 7:30 am

    A wise man once told me that it’s much easier to debate when you get to construct your opponent’s argument along with your own. Do you find that to be true, Jam?

    then Jam said: i’d really like to hear you explain to the folks imprisoned in Gitmo & Abu Ghraib how much of a “joke” their experiences are… comfy sitting behind your computer there?

    Of course, I never argued that Gitmo and Abu Ghraib were jokes. I argued that with respect to Soviet gulags, they are a joke. And they are. Some 10-30 million people died in the gulags — and that was their express purpose. When people die in the U.S.-run facilities, it is due to accidents or the abuses of rogue soldiers (who are then punished), and not administration policy.

    So, no, I wouldn’t explain to the prisoners that their experiences are a joke, except in the context that I just explained.

    And yes, sitting behind my computer is very comfy. Thanks. :-)

  32. May 27, 2005 at 8:10 am

    Whoops. Correction:

    Of course, I never argued that Gitmo and Abu Ghraib were jokes. I argued that with respect to Soviet gulags, they are a joke. And they are. Some 10-30 million people died in the gulags — and that was their express purpose. When people die in the U.S.-run facilities, it is due to accidents or the abuses of rogue soldiers (who are then punished), and not administration policy.

    Should read:

    Of course, I never argued that Gitmo and Abu Ghraib were jokes. I argued that with respect to prisons run by actual brutal and repressive regimes, they are a joke. Cuban prisons routinely employ starvation, brutal torture, beatings and the like. Saddam’s Abu Ghraib was a hellhole where people were fed feet-first into plastic shredders and had their skulls opened by industrill drills while their families watched.

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