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Amnesty International and moral idiocy

Tuesday, Jun 7, 2005

Sometime in the 1970s, I sent a donation to Amnesty International. As soon as I heard that a group had been formed to combat torture, I knew I had to support it.

Unfortunately, like almost all international and most domestic groups, the Left took over Amnesty International, and it devolved into another predictably anti-American, morally destructive organization.

That devolution was most apparent years ago when Amnesty International listed the United States as a major violator of human rights because it executed murderers. The organization’s inability to morally distinguish between executing murderers and executing innocent people means that Amnesty International is worse than ineffectual; the good it has done notwithstanding, it is becoming harmful to the cause of human rights.

Amnesty International reached its nadir two weeks ago when the secretary general of the organization, Irene Khan, branded the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay “the gulag of our times.” And rather than fire her, Amnesty International has defended her. Among her defenders is the American head of Amnesty International, William Schultz, who apparently loves America as much as he loves moral clarity. He said on Chris Matthews’ “Hardball” that he acknowledges that there is a difference “in scale” between Gulag and Guantanamo, but otherwise the comparison is apt.

For the record, at Guantanamo there are about 520 prisoners, the vast majority, if not all, of whom have been rounded up in anti-terror warfare. They were non-uniformed terrorists who are not subject to Geneva Convention rules on prisoners. But even if they did wear uniforms, they would await release at the end of hostilities. They are, even according to Schultz, provided with medical care and a fine diet that honors their religious codes, and they are allowed to practice their religion.

Now compare the estimated 20-30 million prisoners sent to the string of camps across the Soviet Union. They obtained no medical care, were served portions of food inadequate to human survival, and were frozen and worked to death by the millions. Moreover, virtually everyone sent there was entirely innocent of any crime. Every prisoner of the Gulag would have given anything to be a prisoner in Guantanamo.

Calling Guantanamo “Gulag” smears America and trivializes the suffering and deaths of millions upon millions of innocent people. But this does not matter to leftist organizations and their defenders in the mainstream media. What matters is hatred of President Bush.

The apotheosis of liberal moral confusion, the New York Times editorial page, wrote: “What Guantanamo exemplifies . . . may or may not bring to mind the Soviet Union’s sprawling network of Stalinist penal colonies.” Guantanamo “may or may not” be compared to Gulag! What a courageous stand.

The rare exception to the mainstream media silence (other than the Wall Street Journal editorial page — the one major conservative editorial page) was the Washington Post. And the reason the Post condemned Amnesty International was that Anne Applebaum, author of the most definitive work yet on the Gulag, sits on the Post’s editorial board. She knows how immoral the comparison is.

She knows what happened at Gulag. But I believe that most members of the press do not. Leftist moral confusion and animosity toward America and President Bush are not the only reasons for the widespread acceptance of the Amnesty International libel of America and its trivialization of Stalin’s horrors. The other is the simple ignorance of history — especially concerning Communist atrocities — among many of the world’s journalists. An Associated Press report of May 26th (printed in the Washington Post and countless other newspapers) described the Gulag thus: “Thousands of prisoners of the so-called gulags died from hunger, cold, harsh treatment and overwork.”

Thousands? This is our mainstream news media. I am certain the average journalist has little idea about how many people Stalin murdered in the Gulag.

So, for the record, here are some comparisons between the Gulag and Guantanamo, courtesy of David Bosco and published in The New Republic:

Individuals detained: Gulag — 20 million. Guantanamo — 750 total.

Number of camps: Gulag — 476 separate camp complexes comprising thousands of individual camps. Guantanamo — five small camps on the U.S. military base in Cuba.

Reasons for Imprisonment: Gulag — Hiding grain; owning too many cows; need for slave labor; being Jewish; being Finnish; being religious; being middle class; having had contact with foreigners; refusing to sleep with the head of Soviet counterintelligence; telling a joke about Stalin. Guantanamo — Fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan; being suspected of links to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

Red Cross Visits: Gulag — none that Bosco could find. Guantanamo — regular visits since January 2002.

Deaths as a Result of Poor Treatment: Gulag — at least two to three million (Bosco understates). Guantanamo — no reports of prisoner deaths.

If Amnesty International does not fire Irene Khan and retract her obscene comparison, it is unworthy of respect or support. A new non-leftist anti-torture organization must be built.

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