A Project of the American Enterprise Institute and the Federalist Society

Amnesty Trapped In The Past

The Herald Sun

June 15, 2005

By Don D'Cruz

The Secretary-General of Amnesty International, Irene Khan, described Guantanamo Bay as the "gulag of our times" in her foreword to the organisation's most recent annual report.

In doing so, she reveals just how pathetic the so-called human rights groups has become.

Just about everyone expected this year's Amnesty report to contain the usual catalogue of predictable attacks on the US and its allies waging the global war against terrorism.

Shrill attacks on the democracies fighting terrorism have become common since September 11 from groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

By anyone's assessment, this was not a stellar year for the US due to the revelations about treatment of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib jail.

The criticism was both inevitable and legitimate.

But in labelling Gunatanamo Bay a gulag, Amnesty and its secretary-general have left themselves open to serious questions about their political motivations and credibility.

Likening Guantanamo Bay, where some of the world's most vicious terrorists are held among the 600-odd detainees, to the Soviet Union's system of forced-labour prison camps where as many as 25 million suffered in the most horrific and brutal of circumstances, really makes you wonder if you can trust anything that Amnesty has to say.

The Wall Street Journal in an editorial called the comparison pro-Al-Qaida propaganda.

Even The Washington Post, a regular critic of Guantanamo Bay, took aim at Amnesty, observing that turning a report on prisoner detention into another excuse for America-bashing undermined Amnesty's legitimate criticisms of US policies.

Not content with this, at the launch of the report, Amnesty's US executive director, William Schulz, went further, suggesting foreign governments should detain and prosecute senior Bush Administration officials; presumably just like Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

The partisan nature of Schulz's and Amnesty USA's comments should be understood in the context of the revelations by The Washington Times that both gave thousands of dollars to John Kerry's presidential campaign.

So much for impartiality.

Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler has correctly observed that terrorism constitutes a fundamental assault on human rights.

However, groups like Amnesty are trapped in a time warp and continue to view the greatest threat to freedom as the actions of democratic governments.

While September 11 caught democracies around the world unawares, it also caught the human rights industry ill-prepared to confront an environment in which the greatest threats to human rights come not in form of governments but non-state actors such as al-Qaida.

The difference between many governments and the human rights industry since September 11 is that while governments have moved to address this new strategic reality, human rights groups are still in denial.

This was made painfully clear during Khan's last visit to Australia when Lateline's Tony Jones observed that while she claimed human rights were under siege in Western democracies, she never levelled the same charge against terrorists.

In response, Khan amazingly admitted "the reason why we are focusing on governments is because we expect the governments to change and to respect the obligations that they have assumed as political actors on the treaties" and adding that "we cannot have the same expectations of the terrorists".

Amnesty's one-sided approach to human rights and its partisan and ideological commentary may be good for their Left-of-centre funding base but will ultimately diminish what little is left of their reputation and moral authority.

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