Bush administration flip flops: Amnesty International

From SourceWatch
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Another one of the Bush administration flip flops: The Bush administration was for Amnesty International before they were against it.

The Bush administration has been quick to attack Amnesty International's 2005 Human Rights Report, based almost entirely on one statement that was not contained in the report's "United States of America" section, which covers "events from January - December 2004," or in the "Americas: Regional overview 2004".

In fact, it could be argued that it was not even in the actual report, as it was in the "Foreword" to the report, written by Amnesty International's Secretary General, Irene Khan, the phrase in dispute being:

"Guantánamo Bay has become the gulag of our times"

In context, the three paragraphs which wrapped this over-cited and decried expression of hyperbole stated:

"Despite the near-universal outrage generated by the photographs coming out of Abu Ghraib, and the evidence suggesting that such practices are being applied to other prisoners held by the USA in Afghanistan, Guantánamo and elsewhere, neither the US administration nor the US Congress has called for a full and independent investigation."
"Instead, the US government has gone to great lengths to restrict the application of the Geneva Conventions and to 're-define' torture. It has sought to justify the use of coercive interrogation techniques, the practice of holding 'ghost detainees' (people in unacknowledged incommunicado detention) and the 'rendering' or handing over of prisoners to third countries known to practise torture. The detention facility at Guantánamo Bay has become the gulag of our times, entrenching the practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law. Trials by military commissions have made a mockery of justice and due process."
"The USA, as the unrivalled political, military and economic hyper-power, sets the tone for governmental behaviour worldwide. When the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights, it grants a licence to others to commit abuse with impunity and audacity. From Israel to Uzbekistan, Egypt to Nepal, governments have openly defied human rights and international humanitarian law in the name of national security and 'counter-terrorism'."

Administration Heavy Artillery

The administration came out with its most adept vociferators of spin, along with President Bush, to criticise primarily the "gulag" analogy, and as a minimalist second purpose, the actual substance of the human rights abuses documented by Amnesty International (AI) in their report.

George W. Bush

"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 (sic)-- that means not tell the truth. And so it was an absurd report. It just is."

Source: George W. Bush, "President's Press Conference, Whitehouse dot gov, May 31, 2005.

Dick Cheney

KING: Amnesty International condemns the United States. How do you react?
CHENEY: I don't take them seriously?
KING: Not at all?
CHENEY: No. I -- frankly, I was offended by it. I think the fact of the matter is, the United States has done more to advance the cause of freedom, has liberated more people from tyranny over the course of the 20th century and up to the present day than any other nation in the history of the world. ... Just in this administration, we've liberated 50 million people from the Taliban in Afghanistan and from Saddam Hussein in Iraq, two terribly oppressive regimes that slaughtered hundreds of thousands of their own people. For Amnesty International to suggest that somehow the United States is a violator of human rights, I frankly just don't take them seriously.
KING: They specifically said, though, it was Guantanamo. They compared it to a gulag.
CHENEY: Not true. Guantanamo's been operated, I think, in a very sane and sound fashion by the U.S. military. Remember who's down there. These are people that were picked up off the battlefield in Afghanistan and other places in the global war on terror. These are individuals who have been actively involved as the enemy, if you will, trying to kill Americans. That we need to have a place where we can keep them. In a sense, when you're at war, you keep prisoners of war until the war is over with.
We've also been able to derive significant amounts of intelligence from them that helped us understand better the organization and the adversary we face and helped us gather the kind of information that makes it possible for us to defend the United States against further attacks. And what we're doing down there has, I think, been done perfectly appropriately. I think these people have been well treated, treated humanely and decently.
Source: Vice President Dick Cheney, "Interview With Dick Cheney, Lynne Cheney, CNN Larry King Live, May 30, 2005.

Donald Rumsfeld

"no force in the world has done more to liberate people that they have never met than the men and women of the United States military. Indeed, that's why the recent allegation that the U.S. military is running a gulag at Guantanamo Bay is so reprehensible. Most would define a gulag as where the Soviet Union kept millions in forced labor concentration camps, or I suppose some might say that -- where Saddam Hussein mutilated and murdered untold numbers because they held views unacceptable to his regime. To compare the United States and Guantanamo Bay to such atrocities cannot be excused.
Free societies depend on oversight, and they welcome informed criticism, particularly on human rights issues. But those who make such outlandish charges lose any claim to objectivity or seriousness...
Yes, there have been instances where detainees have been mistreated while in U.S. custody, sometimes grievously.
But consider these facts. To date, there have been approximately 370 criminal investigations into the charges of misconduct involving detainees. Out of 68,000 detainees that have been in U.S. custody over the period since September 11th. And of some 525,000 service members, men and women of the various services who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in Guantanamo Bay, less than one-tenth of 1 percent have been found to have committed illegal acts against detainees.
It's also important to remember that the people being detained at Guantanamo are, with good reasons, suspected terrorists. Many, if not most, have been systematically trained to lie and to claim torture. At least a dozen of the 200 already released from GITMO have already been caught back on the battlefield, involved in efforts to kidnap and kill Americans.
Source: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, DOD News Briefing, US Department of Defense, June 1, 2005.

Condoleezza Rice

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has dismissed calls for an independent investigation of conditions at the Guantanamo Bay detention center, and has labeled as ‘absurd’ a new Amnesty International report equating the facility with Soviet-era gulags.
"'The United States is as open a society as you will find,' Rice said, and the administration is being held accountable 'by a free press, by a Congress that is a separate and coequal branch of government, and by its own expectations of what is right.'...
"Rice, a Soviet scholar, seemed particularly indignant at Amnesty International's calling Guantanamo Bay 'the gulag of our times,' a reference to the prison camps under Josef Stalin ...'I think it's absurd language.'"
Source: Warren P. Strobel, "Rice rejects Amnesty report on detainees", Knight Ridder (Boston Globe), May 28, 2005.

Scott McClellan

"I think the allegations are ridiculous and unsupported by the facts. The United States is leading the way when it comes to protecting human rights and promoting human dignity. We have liberated 50 million people in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have worked to advance freedom and democracy in the world so that people are governed under a rule of law and that there are protection -- that there are protections in place for minority rights, that women's rights are advanced so that women can fully participate in societies where now they cannot."
Source: White House spokesperson Scott McClellan, Press Briefing by Scott McClellan, Whitehouse dot gov, May 26, 2004.

‘Disassembling’ the Bush Admin's Dissembling

What is notable in these angry dismissals is the almost complete lack of mention of any of the report's real content about the United States. Not one criticism broached a central issue of the AI Report, namely, that there was a systemic intent to abusiveness which originated from the heads of the USA government's executive branch, which flowed down to the guards and interrogators, ... or that responsiblity for the abuses snakes its tendrils up to the very top of America's political system, both lawfully and morally.

Bush's claims that the "US promotes freedom around the world" and that all claims of abuse were "investigated in a transparent way" can be dismissed simply by viewing current accounts of the Administration's acts. Recently it has been reported that "Executive branch agencies spent an unprecedented $7.2 billion to secure classified information last year ... an 11 percent increase over the preceding year." [1]. The DOD and CIA are alleged to have witheld photographs and documents concerning Torture Of Prisoners unlawfully. [2]. So much for transparency. Bush's promotion of freedom around the world is best viewed in his unflagging support for undemocratic regimes such as Pakistan [3], Uzbekistan[4], and allies of the Arab MidEast.[5]

Cheney's statement of "when you're at war, you keep prisoners of war until the war is over with" is astounding, since this administration has emphasised often that the Guantanamo Detainees ARE NOT POWs. For Cheney to then follow this statment about POW internment with a statement regarding the unlawful interrogation of POWs, and not be challenged, even by Larry King, is a sad statement regarding America's cowardly media.

Rumsfeld's remarks are typical Rummied Rhetoric. First, he mistates the AI Report's purpose saying it is directed at the members of the US Military. With a twist, he then alleges the gulag statement somehow managed to get mixed with the soldiers in the depths of Saddam's depravity; then he uses Saddam's and the Iraq insurgency's atrocities as the referent for which to judge the USA's abuse of POWs. It is a sad affair when America's acts are judged through lens as damaged as these. Rumsfeld then obviously inputs an improper dataset for statistical analysis, using the total number of service personnel who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, when in this case cited, the proper dataset would be the number of guards and interrogators employed by the US. He ends with the bogeyman suspected terrorists, which is exactly one of the main thrusts of AI's allegations -- that these individuals have been detained and interrogated unlawfully, without ever having been accorded due process of law, and even in the eyes of the USA government, still remain suspects, unconvicted of any crime.

When Editors Hyperbolise

Many newpaper editors were willing to flog the gulag analogy with tergiversations, while glossing the substance of the report.

The Pittsburg Tribune attacked using only quotes from the report's website homepage and foreword. Then they challenge the effectiveness of AI, because the report admits a growing body of human rights violations world wide post-9/11. Finally, they question AI's motives.

"Amnesty International is perniciously wrong about the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention facility being 'the gulag of our times'..."
"This political fiction (for it surely does not have law, logic, history or proportion on its side) is noted and condemned."
"Amnesty International's Web site is fulsome in its particularization of human rights abuse. Generally, it says ‘During 2004, the human rights of ordinary men, women and children were disregarded and grossly abused in every corner of the globe.’"
"If what Amnesty International says is true, then its record is one of much talk and precious little effect...."
"Since truth is not the goal, what does Amnesty International want?"
"Peace at any price, we'd say."
Source: Pittsburg Tribune, "The Amnesty International report: Reckless hyperbole". June 3, 2005.

AI would be satisified with an American President who defends and upholds the US Constitution.

The Bowling Green Daily attacked the gulag statement in an editorial, followed with unsubstantiated claims used to defend the Bush Administration.

"Amnesty International’s recent comparison of the United States prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the 'gulags' of the former Soviet Union is simply outrageous and disgraceful...."
"For the record, not one prisoner has died at Guantanamo Bay prison...."
"Although some of these prisoners were battling and killing Americans, we can all agree that Enemy combatants deserve humane treatment as dictated by the Geneva Convention."
"But there is little evidence to suggest that the prisoners are not receiving exactly that."
"The Amnesty report was also critical of what it called indefinite detention at the Guantanamo facility, but we were under the impression that the war on terror was still ongoing. Aren’t enemy combatants normally released at the end of the war?"
Source: Bowling Green Daily (Kentucky), Comparison to gulags will hurt group’s credibility, June 2, 2005.

They failed to mention what information they alone are privy to which enables them to state unequivocally "for the record" that no prisoner has died at Guantanamo, since there has been no transparency at Guantanamo regarding the actual numbers of prisoners, and their treament. Surely the recent changes in the official story about abuse of the Koran would cause an honourable journalist to take the Bush Admin's pronoucements with a small grain of salt. The last statement explaining how enemy combatants "are usually treated" is utter nonsense. In past warfare by High Contracting Parties of the Geneva Conventions, there has been no common class of "enemy combatants". This is a construct of the Bush Admin, which refused to follow international law.

Rowan Scarborough, writing for The Washington Times may be the champion of distortion and misdirection, claiming the report was nothing more than a hack partisan attack, because two of the Amnesty International USA board members had actually donated to John Kerry's presidential campaign. In the interests of fair and reputable journalism, one would think the author would also openly state the Times' editorial and executive board members' campaign contributions as well as his own, so the paper's readers could better comprehend it's bias.

"The top leadership of Amnesty International USA, which unleashed a blistering attack last week on the Bush administration's handling of war detainees, contributed the maximum $2,000 to Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign.
"Federal Election Commission records show that William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty USA, contributed $2,000 to Mr. Kerry's campaign last year...."
"Also, Joe W. 'Chip' Pitts III, board chairman of Amnesty International USA, gave the maximum $2,000 allowed by federal law to John Kerry for President...."
Source: Rowan Scarborough, "Amnesty leadership aided Kerry", The Washington Times, June 2, 2005.

In his June 1, 2005, response to Secretary Rumsfeld, Dr. William F. Schulz, Executive Director, Amnesty International USA, expressed a very good possible reason why he preferred Kerry over Bush in the last election: Donald Rumsfeld is one of the Bush team, and his past interactions with known human rights abusers is well documented. [6][7]

"Donald Rumsfeld and the Bush Administration ignored or dismissed Amnesty International's reports on the abuse of detainees for years, and senior officials continue to ignore the very real plight of men detained without charge or trial...."
"Twenty years ago, Amnesty International was criticizing Saddam Hussein's human rights abuses at the same time Donald Rumsfeld was courting him. In 2003 Rumsfeld apparently trusted our credibility on violations by Iraq, but now that we are criticizing the United States he has lost his faith again...."
"It is also worth noting that this administration eagerly cites Amnesty International research when we criticize Cuba and extensively quoted our criticism of the violations in Iraq under Saddam Hussein in the run up to the war."

None Dared Call It Hyperbole

The Bush Admin proved it was a pervasive purveyor of exaggerated claims in the President's Rush to War Upon Iraq and its aftermath.

In a DOD News Briefing on April 1, 2003, Rumsfeld was casually dismissive about an incident of the Admin's exaggeration, and offered a defense that it should be viewed contexually "In terms of the modern period":

Q: Sir, I wanted to ask you a little bit about some of the rhetoric that's being used to describe the level of tyranny and oppression from Saddam Hussein -- from Hussein's regime.
Rumsfeld: Mmm hmm.
Q: Yesterday, from the podium, we were told that once the Iraqi people were liberated, they would be freed from 'decades and decades of torture and oppression the likes of which I think the world has not seen before.' I think even the kindest reading of that would say that was a slight overstatement. I'd like to get your sense of history here in terms of the Iraq regime, how they stack up against the Third Reich, Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin. Just some perspective here for us.
Rumsfeld: Well, of course, throughout history, there have been a large -- regrettably, there have been a large number of regimes that have been just notably vicious. Certainly, some of the ones you've mentioned, Stalin ranks high; Adolf Hitler ranks high.
In terms of the modern period, it seems to me that Iraq clearly is up towards the top of the list. This is a regime that has prided itself on eliminating, brutally eliminating any dissent or opposition. We'll know an awful lot more when we get on the ground and have a chance to talk to the people and see more precisely exactly the techniques they've used. But we do -- if you read the various human rights groups and Amnesty International's description of what they know has gone on, it's not a happy picture.
Q: Would you agree that that was more of a blanket, uncategoric statement -- a categoric statement than it should be.
Rumsfeld: I didn't see the statement.

The same contexual spin can easily be applied to the Khan statement:

In the post-soviet era, Guantanamo Bay has become the gulag of our times.

There are many other examples of the Bush administration's use of hyperbole:

  • "...there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." --Condeleeza Rice, "CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer", CNN, September 8, 2002.
  • "In a speech..., Mr Bush compared the challenge of the Iraqi President to the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938, which led to World War II." --Anne Kornblut and Charles Sennott, "Saddam the new Hitler, Bush tells Europeans", "Sydney Morning Herald", November 22, 2002.
  • "...the fact that the inspectors have not yet come up with new evidence of Iraq's WMD program could be evidence in and of itself of Iraq's non-cooperation." --Donald Rumsfeld, "DoD News Briefing - Secretary Rumsfeld And Gen. Myers", Department of Defense, January 15, 2003.
  • "The US ambassador to the European Union, Rockwell Schnabel, on Thursday justified the US threat of war on Iraq by comparing President Saddam Hussein to Adolf Hitler in the 1930s." --AFP, "US ambassador compares Saddam to Hitler", EUbusiness, January 16, 2003.
  • "The scenes of free Iraqis celebrating in the streets, riding American tanks, tearing down the statues of Saddam Hussein in the center of Baghdad are breathtaking. Watching them, one cannot help but think of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Iron Curtain. We are seeing history unfold events that will shape the course of a country, the fate of a people, and potentially the future of the region. Saddam Hussein is now taking his rightful place alongside Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Ceausescu in the pantheon of failed, brutal dictators, and the Iraqi people are well on their way to freedom." -- Donald Rumsfeld, "DoD News Briefing - Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers", Department of Defense, April 9, 2003.
  • "Twenty years ago we had a similar situation in El Salvador. We had -- guerrilla insurgency controlled roughly a third of the country, 75,000 people dead, and we held free elections. I was there as an observer on behalf of the Congress...And today El Salvador is a whale of a lot better because we held free elections." --Dick Cheney, 'Transcript: Vice Presidential Debate - Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio", Washington Post - Text From FDCH E-Media, Inc., October 5, 2004.
  • "The toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad will be recorded, alongside the fall of the Berlin Wall, as one of the great moments in the history of liberty." --G.W. Bush, President Discusses War on Terror: Fort Hood, Texas, Whitehouse dot gov, April 12, 2005.

Bush Admin's Amnesty International Situationalism

Indeed, the Bush Administration was for Amnesty International before it was against it and has shown itself in the very recent past still willing to use data acquired from AI's reports as a primary and trusted source of research data. To look at examples of some pre- and post-Iraq War citations that originated from the Bush administration, see Bush administration flip flops: Amnesty International: Bush Administration Documents-(also incudes US Congressional citations).

Amnesty International issued a press release after GW Bush's September 12, 2002 Speech to the UN which noted the White House usage of their reports in documents supporting his speech that were published on the White House Webserver. They did not consider this to be a proper usage of their data:

"In his speech to the UN General Assembly today, President George Bush made reference to the serious human rights violations perpetrated upon the Iraqi people by their government. In the background paper distributed to the media, several references were made to Amnesty International's reports published over the years on the human rights situation in Iraq.
Once again, the human rights record of a country is used selectively to legitimize military actions..."

Not in the name of human rights, Amnesty International, September 12, 2002

Some Related Source Watch links

External links

Bush administration flip flops: Amnesty International: External Links

Amnesty International Links