Friday, May 27, 2005

Normally I respectfully disagree with the arguments on Oxblog. Yesterday, however, proved the exception.

I don't respect this post by David Adesnik at all:
MILLIONS DEAD BY ANALOGY: In a bold effort to destroy any pretense of her own detachment or objectivity, the the head of Amnesty International has described the US prison at Guantanamo Bay as "the gulag of our times".

Although the editors of the WaPo have made the right decision to single out this absurd comparison as the dumbest and most offensive remark made by AI's Secretary General, Irene Khan, this single outrage should not obscure how thoroughly offensive her entire speech was.

The purpose of Khan's speech was to introduce and summarize AI's annual report

...I presume that Khan's emphasis on the US (and the UK), reflects her knowledge that exerting pressure on the world's greatest democracies may actually result in a change of behavior, whereas Kim Jong Il and Fidel Castro couldn't care less about what Amnesty International thinks of their behavior.

This, however, is no excuse for Khan's behavior, because there are many, many nations that are susceptible to pressure and which commit atrocities far worse than anything that happened at Abu Ghraib. Let's start with Syria. Just a few months ago, I might have ignorantly said that Bashar would never listen to foreign critics. But now he has no choice, and Amnesty should recognize how much good it might accomplish by emphasizing Syrian brutality.

Of course, there is a chapter on Syria in AI's annual report. The same is true of CubaNorth Korea. But when the head of the organization singles out the US and UK for criticism, she lets the Cubans, Syrians and North Koreans know that they are not her biggest concern. It's exactly the same as when Bush singles out Egypt for criticism but lets Pakistan and Saudi Arabia slide.

At least Bush can say in his own defense that the Saudis and Pakistanis are helping us fight the war on terror. Amnesty could never say that the Cubans, Syrians, or North Koreans are doing anything to make the world a better place.
Admittedly, the "gulag" comment was a bit of a stretch. But the general idea that structural similarities exist between what is happening at Guantanamo Bay and what did happen in some of the more repressive regimes of the past is very much fair game.

More to the point though, what really bothers me is the disputational tack that Adesnik takes. Note that he never outright defends the behavior of the American military. Rather, he tries to direct blame elsewhere. The U.S.? How dare Amnesty International point the finger at the U.S. -- doesn't it know Cuba, Syria, & North Korea are far worse?

Please. That Cuba, Syria, and North Korea are far worse is precisely the point: it is utterly shameful that grounds for comparison should even exist between those countries and a constitutional democracy.

Left or right, Adesnik's argument represents the blogosphere at its worst. Beneath his pedantry lies only the sandbox tactic of deflecting self-criticism by pointing the finger at everyone else. An Oxford student should know better.


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