Sunday, May 29, 2005


The Descent of Amnesty International

David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey respond to the surprising and outrageous report from Amnesty International (AI) in Amnesty Unbelievable, published in National Review Online.

By way of introduction to Rivkin's and Casey's arguments, an excerpt:
First and foremost, Amnesty’s report is emphatically not an honest assessment of American compliance with international law. Rather, it is an assessment of how well the United States complies with Amnesty International’s political and ideological agenda — equivalent to the grading of individual members of Congress by domestic advocacy groups. This is obvious from the report’s three fundamental measures of a good human-rights record, which are applied to every included state: (1) whether the death penalty has been retained; (2) whether the International Criminal Court treaty has been ratified; and (3) whether the U.N. Women’s Convention, and its Optional Protocol, has been ratified. All of these criteria involve controversial political issues where there is fundamental disagreement between right and left and — from Amnesty’s perspective — George Bush’s America fails on all counts. This, of course, is what you would expect, since the president is a conservative, elected by increasingly conservative American voters.
Rivkin and Casey go on to observe that AI's biggest complaint and the apparent loci of their animus is that “[h]undreds of detainees continue to be held without charge or trial at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.”
This, of course, is the installation that Amnesty’s secretary general, Irene Khan, characterized as “the gulag of our times.”
As many of those more familiar with what real Gulags were (and are) like, this is likely "highly improvident hyperbole," as Rivkin and Casey conclude, as it is not likely that Khan is unfamiliar with the actual “modern equivalents” of the gulag: "Castro’s Cuba, North Korea, China and, until recently, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.)" Khan does indeed trivialize the excesses of such regimes, past and present by comparing the (comparatively minor) excesses of a few without command direction, with gross atrocities committed in the thousands and millions with mechanical precision as part of authoritarian government policy.

Rivkin and Casey make the obvious distinction between those held at Gauntanamo and "political prisoners," which used to be the natural constituency of AI, but no longer:
Of course, the men held at Guantanamo Bay are not political dissidents. They are captured enemy combatants. Under the laws of war, they can be detained until the conflict, or at least actual hostilities, are concluded. This has been the practice of the United States, and of every other major power in Europe and elsewhere, for centuries. It is not illegal; it is not immoral. In fact, this rule is one of the first and most important humanitarian advances made in warfare. The right to detain is the necessary concomitant of the obligation to give quarter on the battlefield, to actually take prisoners alive.
Regular readers may recall my post commenting on Bill Whittle's excellent Sanctuary essay, which precisely identifies how our enemies in the Global War on Terror invalidate the very basis of treating these individuals as Prisoners of War.

At the same time AI slams U.S. Policy as violating the very protocols and conventions in question, by their own admission what they draw attention to, is no violation at all according to those very conventions. And of course, AI knows this, but they’re just being rhetorical. That, or they don’t know the substance of the very protocols they’re so hot to enforce. Rivkin and Casey again:
As Amnesty International knows, the U.N. Convention defines “torture” as “severe pain or suffering.” That means that there is some level of pain and suffering, which is not severe, that does not constitute torture. So long as coercive interrogation methods do not cross that line, and are not otherwise “cruel, inhuman or degrading,” they are lawful. What constitutes “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment is not defined in the treaty. The meaning of these terms depends very much on the situation and individuals involved. The European Court of Human Rights, in a case dealing with British interrogation of IRA terrorists, concluded that a series of stress methods — including hooding, stress positions, loud noise and sleep deprivation — did not constitute torture, and were “inhuman” only when used together.
Amnesty International used to be an organization that stood as the (sometimes solitary) voice against oppression, real oppression, real torture, real crimes against humanity.

If our national support for the Death Penalty, as established in the legitimate laws of this democratically elected Republic, and our refusal to yield sovereignty to international organizations and protocols as legally decided by our Executive and Legislative Branches, makes us a target worthy of special attention to AI, then they have lost belief in their charter.

This is extreme folly, and in my mind completely surrenders any moral standing that AI would have otherwise been entitled to in their long and dedicated service, the record of which recent leaders of that organization have steadily sullied. Soon, they will be the moral equivalent of the UN Committee on Human Rights, if they are not already.

Where on earth are the Trustees? What do the founders and supporters of AI think of this report? Are domestic U.S. Politics so valuable to you, that you will sacrifice the very soul of your organization? Are American Conservatives and Libertarians so beyond the pale, that you need to brand us as evil as anything you can conceive (and yes, observe) in the world today? Do you think this is some nightmare you will wake up from, and if you just tough it out, you will never have to deal with U.S. Republicans or Conservatives again? Do you want to fight true oppression, or do you want to play politics, because if it’s the former, we can work together, but if it’s the latter, you’re irrelevant to us (and to your very charter).

Rivkin and Casey conclude:
In the meantime, Amnesty International should reflect that its extravagant and unfounded claims that the United States has violated international law, and that its officials should be the subject of criminal prosecution, work to undercut its own mission. Amnesty claimed that “[w]hen the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights, it grants a license to others to commit abuse with impunity and audacity.” In fact, it is Amnesty International, and similar NGOs, who have granted that license. They have done this by failing to distinguish clearly between American interpretations of international law, including the Geneva Conventions and Torture Convention, with which they may disagree as a policy matter, and actual illegal conduct. It is hardly surprising that repressive regimes claim that the United States has violated the law, thus permitting them to follow suit, when groups like Amnesty persistently state that American policy at Guantanamo Bay is illegal even though this is simply not true.
And that’s precisely the problem. If those on the left – both domestically in the U.S. and their dedicated supporters like AI internationally – continue to debase their arguments with this kind of hateful and unhinged rhetoric, they only plow the field for the fascist and dictatorial (and now terrorist) abusers they were created to combat. And that doesn’t just make them against our efforts, but on the other side. How can it be otherwise, when they fight the propaganda war for those who wage war on humanity?

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