The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Solzhenitsyn and Orwell: Still Relevant

June 6, 2005

Cross-posted on my blog.

Since 1991, I’ve been the faculty sponsor for the University of Louisville campus chapter of Amnesty International. Some years the students are very active, other years there really isn’t much of a chapter.

In any case, I have a long-time interest in AI and have a lot of confidence in their human rights work. Needless to say, Amnesty has been unhappy with some Bush administration policies and practices against suspects in the “war on terror.” From a CNN report:

“The U.S. is maintaining an archipelago of prisons around the world, many of them secret prisons, into which people are being literally disappeared, held in indefinite, incommunicado detention without access to lawyers or a judicial system or to their families,” [William] Schulz [Executive director of the Washington branch] said.

“And in some cases, at least, we know they are being mistreated, abused, tortured and even killed.”

…Amnesty International’s report, released May 25, cited “growing evidence of U.S. war crimes” and labeled the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay as “the gulag of our times.”

Because of my faith in Amnesty, I was more than a little dismayed by President Bush’s remarks about the AI report when questioned about them during a Press Conference, May 31:


Q Thank you, sir. Mr. President, recently, Amnesty International said you have established “a new gulag” of prisons around the world, beyond the reach of the law and decency. I’d like your reaction to that, and also your assessment of how it came to this, that that is a view not just held by extremists and anti-Americans, but by groups that have allied themselves with the United States government in the past — and what the strategic impact is that in many places of the world, the United States these days, under your leadership, is no longer seen as the good guy.

THE PRESIDENT: I’m aware of the Amnesty International report, and it’s absurd. It’s an absurd allegation. The United States is a country that is — promotes freedom around the world. When there’s accusations made about certain actions by our people, they’re fully investigated in a transparent way. It’s just an absurd allegation.

In terms of the detainees, we’ve had thousands of people detained. We’ve investigated every single complaint against the detainees. It seemed like to me they based some of their decisions on the word of — and the allegations — by people who were held in detention, people who hate America, people that had been trained in some instances to disassemble — that means not tell the truth. And so it was an absurd report. It just is.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called the “gulag” charge “reprehensible.” Vice President Dick Cheney said he was offended.

Did any of these men address the specific claims? No, of course not.

Yesterday, I was reminded by Susan Nossel of Democracy Arsenal that the White House favorably and frequently cited Amnesty International reports during the buildup to the Iraq war. She linked to this appropriately titled Think Progress post: “The Bush Administration Was For Amnesty International Before It Was Against It.” Blogger Faiz references several anti-Iraq statements by Rumsfeld that cited AI reports.

There’s plenty more: Amnesty is referenced at least six times in Decade of Deception and Defiance, which the White House Press Office called a “background paper for President George W. Bush’s September 12th [2002] speech to the United Nations General Assembly.”

Amnesty International reported that, in October 2000, the Iraqi Government executed dozens of women accused of prostitution.

According to Amnesty International, the victims’ heads were displayed in front of their homes for several days.

Amnesty International reported that Iraq has the world’s worst record for numbers of persons who have disappeared or remain unaccounted for.

In August 2001, Amnesty International reported that Saddam Hussein has the world’s worst record for numbers of persons who have disappeared and remain unaccounted for.

Obviously, there was some redundancy.

Given what has been revealed about Abu Ghraib and Gitmo, there’s a certain irony in this one:

In August 2001 Amnesty International released a report entitled Iraq — Systematic Torture of Political Prisoners, which detailed the systematic and routine use of torture against suspected political opponents and, occasionally, other prisoners. Amnesty International also reports “Detainees have also been threatened with bringing in a female relative, especially the wife or the mother, and raping her in front of the detainee. Some of these threats have been carried out.”

I’m thinking about assigning 1984 for my US Foreign Policy class this fall.

Filed as:US Foreign Policy, Amnesty International, and Human rights.

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Rodger A. Payne is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Louisville. He serves on the University’s Sustainability Council and was a co-founder of the Peace, Conflict, and Social Justice program. He is the author of dozens of journal articles and book chapters and coauthor, with Nayef Samhat, of Democratizing Global Politics: Discourse Norms, International Regimes, and Political Community (SUNY, 2004). He is currently working on two major projects, one exploring the role of narratives in international politics and the other examining the implications of America First foreign policy.