Amnesty International vs. Arrogance International

Please take a moment to make as large a contribution as possible to Amnesty International, the latest member of the Shrub administration’s Axis Of People Who Insist On Telling the Truth About Us. If you have not already heard, Amnesty’s annual report on the state of human rights worldwide includes a ringing condemnation of the United States’ detention of prisoners without trial, without lawyers, and without any contact with the outside world.

In her introduction to the report, AI Secretary General Irene Khan says,

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”.

Administration officials have condemned her for comparing Guantanamo Bay to a Soviet prison camp, pointing out that detainees are not starved or worked to death. This is typical Shrub maneuvering, picking on a fairly academic point in what is mosly a devastatingly factual account.

Bob Herbert’s column today compares the Shrub administration’s Iraq policies, and its attempts to repress dissent, to the Nixon administration’s conduct over Vietnam and wonders when this generation’s Deep Throat is going to show up. I’m not encouraged by the comparison, not least because Nixon, while certainly a dangerous paranoid and a criminal, was an intelligent man who conducted foreign policy with a mixture of ruthlessness and thoughtfulness, as opposed to a mixture of ruthlessness and cluelessness. It’s really sad to consider that we’d probably be better off with Henry Kissinger in the White House than most of the crowd there; at least he’s able to name the leaders of all the countries in which he ran illegal operations and commissioned assassinations.

Beyond that, if by some chance an administration insider did decide to spill his or her guts to the press, would the reaction be the same? How would it be viewed by an American public that believes Shrub even when he lies straight to their faces (one only wishes he would disassemble)? Stories much hotter than Watergate have come and gone about this administration, receiving little coverage and next to no attention from a cowed media and a public that considers The New York Times an anti-administration paper despite its disgraceful and continuing support of Judith Miller, who bears as much responsibility as the Shrub cabal for leading this country into a useless and pointless war.

So the administration is revving up the swift boats, hoping to force Amnesty to back down the way they did with Newsweek over the Koran desecrations or with CBS over Bush’s evasion of military service. But in both of those cases, the news organizations involved made the fatal error of not sufficiently verifying the facts, allowing the administration to seize on not-entirely-relevant details to destroy the credibility of the entire report. The Koran being flushed down the toilet is a sexy detail that turned out to be unprovable, but the repeated desecrations of Korans by U.S. military personnel have been irrevocably documented. CBS’ use of blatantly forged documents in the National Guard story was so inexcusably stupid that one has to wonder if it was a deliberate sabotaging of what could have been a solid investigation into Shrub’s nonapperances and sweetheart deals to avoid military service.

Amnesty is better than that, or at least I hope so. Their research is generally meticulous and they go out of their way to be fair to even the most insane dictators (read the annual report section on North Korea, for instance). This is a public relations battle that the administration could conceivably lose, and lose badly, but we all know the shitstorm that will rain down from the Wradical Wright. So make a contribution to support the other side of the story and ensure that someone is telling the truth.

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