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Amnesty International: Another al Qaeda?
Scripps Howard News Service


June 08, 2005

If you play the rhetorical game with rules as loose as those used by Amnesty International, you can say this about the organization - that it is analogous to al Qaeda and that some of its spokesmen will say anything to make the United States appear evil, just as Osama bin Laden will.

That's going much too far, I agree, but it was also going much too far when the head of the London-based human-rights group said Guantanamo is today's version of the Russian gulag. What's worse is that she then refused to back down and that other Amnesty defenders have rallied around this infamy, holding it up amid criticism as if it were an honored flag in battle.

The gulag, Amnesty critics remind us, was a system of slave labor camps. Anyone failing to give Soviet oppression a big enough grin was liable to be sent to them, tormented in them and kept in them till death robbed the body of any possible resistance to tyranny. The Soviets killed millions through this corrective for political errancy.

Guantanamo, on the other hand, is a facility where the United States has imprisoned 700 men, mostly terrorist combatants, a couple of hundred of whom have now been released. Most of the detainees have received more than decent treatment there.

The abuses that have occurred should not be excused, but seem to have been few and far between and milquetoast by virtually any standards of prisons anywhere. You can argue, as Amnesty has, that the prisoners should have had extra-military legal recourse, but you can also note, as columnist Deroy Murdock has, that the information produced through interrogation has likely saved many lives.

So here is what I saw on TV even after Amnesty's wild-eyed exaggeration had been widely denounced: the U.S. representative of Amnesty saying that while the gulag and Guantanamo are not literally the same, there are "some analogies" between the former Soviet labor camps and U.S. detention facilities.

And what I along with others say in return to William Schulz is that this retreat is nowhere near sufficient, that he continues to trivialize some of the worst atrocities of 20th-century history with his invalid, insensitive, unsupportable comparisons and that he and other Amnesty officials have vastly diminished the credibility of their organization.

He owes the American people an apology, especially considering the other outlandish allegations he has made, such as:

- His unsubstantiated contention that America has secret prisons around the world at which it tortures and kills people.

- His remark that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is an "architect of torture" and that Rumsfeld and other top-ranking U.S. officials should be arrested and tried as war criminals by other governments if they ever step out of the United States.

Checking out the history of Amnesty, I found that, in 1961, an English lawyer read about two Portuguese students being sent to prison for the affront of toasting freedom. He wrote a piece for a newspaper, and out of his simple act of moral outrage grew an organization that came to have 1 million members operating in dozens of countries, defending thousands of people and so clearly helping a large percentage of them that it won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1977.

But more and more, the non-governmental group has veered from its stated intention of being non-ideological and non-biased. A Weekly Standard writer has demonstrated, for instance, how Amnesty has repeatedly misrepresented events in Iraq, making the United States out to be villainous when it was not. Amnesty's lockstep leftism has become unmistakable, its anti-U.S. bias pronounced and its reporting therefore unreliable.

Now, as the exclamation mark standing behind the perception of a good group gone bad is the comparison of Guantanamo to the gulag. To make such a mistake is one thing, a thing we can all forgive because we all have made mistakes, but to cling to the error with self-righteous stubbornness while broadcasting still more calumnies is to indicate that Amnesty truly does have a dysfunctional sense of proportion, that there is in fact something close to fanatical at work among some of its leaders.

Discerning people will henceforth snicker rather than shudder when they hear pronouncements from Amnesty, a force that became a farce.


Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.
He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)

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