Saturday, June 04, 2005

Last week I responded to David Adesnik's censorious post on the latest Amnesty International human rights report. Although many commentators were just as indignant, Adesnik's rebuttal was particularly objectionable because it couched in scholatistic terms an argument no more developed than the 'how dare they?' rejoinder of pre-literate discourse.

Amnesty itself, however, has simply cut to the chase. In response to President Bush's equally jejune contention that the report was simply "absurd", William Shulz, Amnesty's executive director, wrote the following:
If our reports are so "absurd," why did the administration repeatedly cite our findings about Saddam Hussein before the Iraq war? 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?

No amount of spin can erase the myriad human rights abuses committed by United States officials in the "war on terror." The United States cannot simultaneously claim that it "promotes freedom around the world" while detaining tens of thousands at Guantánamo Bay, Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and in Iraq and other locations without charge or trial and allowing those civilian and military officials responsible for orchestrating a systematic policy of torture to escape accountability.

Admittedly, what Shulz doesn't mention is that Bush's criticism owed as much to the report's "gulag" reference as to its findings of U.S. human rights abuse in general. But even that reference is at best hyperbolic, not illogical or absurd. For as Shultz does in fact note, persons detained in U.S. camps have consistently been deprived of the right to due process. Such willful deprivation is in flagrant violation of international common law and, further, provides legitimate ground for structural comparison with the Soviet gulags, which were infamous precisely because of the due process violations that occurred within them.

I may have my own criticisms of Amnesty, but I find it hard to see how anyone could side against them on this. The U.S. government has systematically, expressly, and unapologetically violated the individual rights of persons throughout the world. How could it possibly be surprised -- let alone find it absurd -- when organizations devoted to monitoring those rights should find fault with it?


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