Wednesday, June 08, 2005

More Thoughts on Amnesty International and Gitmo

As with the Dan Rather affair, where they deflected attention from the charges that Bush hadn’t fulfilled his TANG duties to the possibly falsified documents and Dan Rather’s perceived liberal bias, the Republican press and flak monkeys, with the always eager acquiescence of the mainstream media with its so-called liberal bias, has largely managed in the last week to divert attention from the disgrace of the prisoner program we run to Amnesty International’s supposedly inflammatory and improper comparison of this program to the Soviet Gulag.

The comparison of the detainee camp at Gitmo and the others scattered throughout the world to the Soviet Gulag is inexact. We haven’t imprisoned or killed millions and we haven’t pressed the prisoners into slave labor. We have, however, imprisoned thousands in camps, many not as well known as Gitmo or Abu Ghraib, we have snatched people off the streets and held them incommunicado, without access to counsel or a trial, we have shipped prisoners to countries that will hide and torture them for us, so many in fact that the CIA has developed a quite extensive air force for this purpose. It is those aspects of the Bush Administration’s prisoner program, its “enemy combatant” detention program, that prompted and earned the Amnesty International comparison to a Gulag.

That these things are not more extensive than they are and that we know of them at all is due not to the restraint and open air policies of the Bush Administration, for such things don’t exist, but to a press that has at times defied expectations to search for and publish and air the story and to a US court system that has shown in this area an admirable independence from and lack of deference to the Bush Administration (as it was designed by the founding fathers to do). Left to its own devices, the Bush Administration would have kept all of these matters in the dark. There would not even be any talk of trials (despite a Supreme Court order to try these prisoners, the Bush Administration has so far failed to do so; trials for the prisoners remain in the “planning” stage) and there can be no doubt that the excesses of the Administration in these matters would be even greater.

Ironically, one of the rhetorical traps defenders of the Bush Administration have fallen into is the one they accused AI of, that of false moral equivalency. They fault Amnesty for not criticizing the insurgents and their treatment of prisoners, whom they often murder, as severely as AI criticized the US for its failings. Whether the people who raise this objection are too dim to recognize the inaptness of the comparison or bright enough to do so but too dishonest to discard it is irrelevant. It’s a bit similar to the objection raised when Abu Ghraib first came to our consciousness and the moral among us complained of those cases of prisoner abuse. The right cried then that Abu Ghraib may have been bad (though few among them would concede even this), but it wasn’t as bad as the horrors Saddam visited on his people. In both cases the Administration’s defenders miss the point. The United States, though diminished by Bush policies, is by far the strongest nation, both economically and politically, in the world. It is also a nation with a long history of dedication to and action in the service of the ideal of justice. We have been as a nation, as we like to think of ourselves, special. We have demanded that we be treated specially. Now there are some who are whining because they think Amnesty International is holding us to a higher standard than gangs of murderous thugs. Well, the nerve.
As a nation, we’ve not always lived up to our ideals, not by a long shot, but most Americans like to believe that we have usually tried and most Americans have enough integrity and devotion to those ideals to be ashamed of those times we have failed to strive to live up to that tradition. The revelations of the evil of Abu Ghraib and the abuses elsewhere in our camp system are not despicable merely because they exist, but also because this Administration and its defenders are not only not ashamed of these things, but they try defend these things while trying to shame those who would point them things out.

My main objection to the horrors of Abu Ghraib and the injustice of Gitmo and the other detention camps is that they are, on their face, immoral. A close second, though, is that they have degraded the United States. The extent of this degradation is revealed in no small part by the defense of these things by Americans who wish to be taken seriously. Though it seems likely to me that these same people and their kind would probably have similarly leapt to the defense of Saint Ronnie had the need arisen (silly me, of course they did, and continue to do so, in defense of Reagan’s Central American policy. You remember; the one that looked the other way while agents of our client states murdered clergyman and other political enemies and murdered and raped nuns.), I cannot imagine anybody leaping to the defense of Clinton, Carter, or Ford if such actions had been exposed as the handiwork of their administrations. These presidents would have been excoriated, and rightly so, by the left and the right. Americans of all persuasions would have loudly and often proclaimed that this President, this government, these people who carry out his will, do not represent me. That widespread revulsion is not present under Bush and its absence degrades us nearly as much as this administration’s actions.

Some of those who have criticized AI in the past week have done so, they say, with a heavy heart. It is so sad, they say, to see this organization demean itself and sacrifice its hard-won credibility in its clearly partisan unfair attack on Bush. Other critics don’t even give AI that much credit, ignoring or simply being ignorant of AI’s thirty plus year history of exposing human rights abuses by governments around the world, regardless of those governments’ political leanings. AI is an organization that has no armies, no power of government behind it. It has only the ability to unearth and publicly air the misdeeds of governments. It has done so in Cuba, China, the former Soviet Union, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, and nearly every other nation on the planet. It has done so, quite famously, in Iraq, while some of those who now castigate AI were busy selling arms to or buying oil from Saddam. The hypocrisy of those who now criticize AI for its choice of words would be appalling if it weren’t so insignificant compared to these people’s utter shamelessness and immorality.
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