Gulags and Guantanamo

Ted Barlow has a great post over at Crooked Timber. One of the things about ideological warfare is its relentlessness. Tactics and attitudes that emerge to respond to bad situations build up a kind of second nature in their adherents which continues to roll on even where many of the important objectives of the movement have been achieved. I marvel at the continuing vigilance of feminists, the constant baying for more positive discrimination of various kinds as a kind of reflex action. The instinctive defence of old positions – or rather the insistance that, in crafting new positions to resopnd to obvious inadequacies in old positions, ideological toes are not trodden on. I put Clive Hamilton’s ‘rethinking’ of the left agenda in a similar category – constantly telling us that he’s really being true to the left (who cares?)

Ted’s post is an open letter to the New Republic for joining in on the critique of Amnesty International for comparing the Guantanamo Bay prison used to to make its inmates beyond the reach of due process with Soviet Gulags. It puts me in mind of Ken Parish’s great comment on a post by Don, which should be posted up here as a prelude to Ted’s words.

The straighteners and punishers are audaciously attaching the straightener and punisher label to the forces of tolerance, acceptance and freedom. The latter don’t seem to know what to do to combat such radically dishonest rhetoric, and the cool, disengaged crowd neither know nor care enough to realise that it’s a classic three card trick.

Anyway, here’s Ted.

Irene Khan, the Secretary General, made a wide-ranging speech criticizing the United States, the UN, Western Europe, and the governments of Sudan, Zimbabwe, China, and Russia, among others. . . . [S]he made an overheated and historically ignorant comparison of Guantanamo Bay to the Soviet gulags. In response, Bush administration officials joined the ignoble ranks of leaders who have responded to Amnesty International reports of human rights abuses with spin and self-pity. President Bush said [the report was] absurd. Vice-President Cheney said that he didn’t take Amnesty seriously, and Donald Rumsfeld called the description “reprehensible”. . .

On one hand, we had an organization with a 40-year history of standing up for human rights regardless of borders and ideology, criticizing the United States for holding prisoners without due process and torturing them. Only a fool would deny that this is, in fact, happening. On the other hand, we have an Administration accusing Amnesty International of poor word choice. Your contribution to the debate was a piece criticizing Amnesty for the use of the term “gulag”.

I completely understand the objection to the term. . . Surely human rights abuses performed in our name, by our elected government, deserve scrutiny and criticism, even if such abuses don’t approach the depths of Stalin or Saddam. It seems obvious to me that Amnesty doesn’t deserve your sneers. . .

Sincerely,

Ted Barlow

P.S. You can imagine a world in which the term “gulag” had not been used in that speech. In that world, do you imagine that the Amnesty report would have set off a serious effort on the part of the Bush Administration to correct its abuses? Or do you think that they would find another excuse- any excuse- to belittle and ignore the report? The question answers itself, doesn’t it?

Hear Hear!

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Rafe
2022 years ago

Well, on the bright side, up to date they haven’t killed as many people at Guantanamo Bay as they did at Waco. Or even by mistakes and accidents in the war on drugs.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Comparable is the charge from Moscow that NGOs are secret agents of the West trying to destabilise all those scions of democracy in the Ukraine and the Stans.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

“Or even by mistakes and accidents in the war on drugs.”

Think again girlfriend. Nearly 3% of all US adult residents have been funnelled through their incarceration/’justice” archipelago, a figure that leads the former USSR and pretty much the rest of the world in per capita and absolute numbers. Only the Nazis penned up more in sheer volume.

http://www.pbs.org/now/society/prisons2.html

And the overwhelming majority for victimless drug possesion charges. That ain’t justice, that’s an industry.

Geoff Robinson
2022 years ago

I am not sure about the use of the term ‘gulag’, but I am struck (as I am working my way through Solzhenitsyn at the moment) by three factors: 1) the bizarre interrogation techniques used by the NKVD which are similar to some American approaches: everything from beating people to death to sexual overtures to prisoners; 2) the manner in which the Gulag grew from something on the edges of Soviet society in the 1920s to an overwhelming presence in the 1930s, which Solzhenitsyn refers to as ‘the law’ growing from childhood to manhood; 3) the manner in which many Americanists conduct themselves just like old-style Communists or fellow-travellers in their response to those who criticised their dream foreign utopia.

James Lane
James Lane
2022 years ago

Let’s try Ted’s second paragraph again:

“On one hand, we had an organization with a 40-year history of standing up for human rights regardless of borders and ideology, making an absurd comparison between Gitmo and the Soviet Gulag. Only a fool would accept this. On the other hand, we have an Administration rejecting such a comparison.”

This is much more than a poor choice of words. It is emblematic of the decline of a once-great organisation. Ted gets one thing right, however: a ridiculous and intemperate lack of perspective obscured anything worthwhile Amnesty had to say on the subject.

It also trivialises the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Whatever its faults, not one prisoner has died at Guantanamo Bay. Comparing Guantanamo Bay to the Gulag is like comparing the Eureka Stockade to the Great War.

For anyone interersted I can recommend Anne Applebaum’s “Gulag – a History”, but be warned, it’s a heartbreaking read.

wbb
wbb
2022 years ago

Not one person has died at Gitmo? Sure about that? Anyway plenty have died throughout the rest of the archipelago eg Baghram and Abu G.

Look, these deaths don’t get announced on Fox. Doesn’t mean they don’t happen.

Obviously the USSR was something else. So therefore the rhetoric wil grate with you lot, but if you want to get publicity for your charges, then this is how you get your msg some airtime. Good on AI, I say.

James Lane
James Lane
2022 years ago

>>Not one person has died at Gitmo? Sure about that?

Yep.

>>Anyway plenty have died throughout the rest of the archipelago eg Baghram and Abu G.

It’s an archipelago now?

>>Obviously the USSR was something else.

Correct.

>>So therefore the rhetoric wil grate with you lot,

Not sure what you mean by “you lot”?

>>but if you want to get publicity for your charges, then this is how you get your msg some airtime. Good on AI, I say.

No, it’s how you get your charges dismissed out of hand by otherwise well-meaning people.

SJ
SJ
2022 years ago

“No, it’s how you get your charges dismissed out of hand by otherwise well-meaning people.”

How is it that these “otherwise well-meaning people” are apologists for torture and murder? Sounds like bs to me.

meika
2022 years ago

Evil pundit is not evil and should be ignored.

Evil Pundit
2022 years ago

Amnesty International shields terrorists:
http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110006789

‘On November 19, 2001, Amnesty issued one of its “URGENT ACTION” reports on his behalf: “Amnesty International is concerned for the safety of Iraqi citizen Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, who is being held by the Jordanian General Intelligence Department. . . . He is held incommunicado detention and is at risk of torture or ill-treatment.” Pressure from Amnesty and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq worked; Mr. Shakir was released and hasn’t been seen since.

‘Mr. Shakir is believed to be an al Qaeda operative who abetted the USS Cole bombing and 9/11 plots, among others. Along with 9/11 hijackers Khalid al Midhar and Nawaf al Hazmi, he was present at the January 2000 al Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He was working there as an airport “greeter”–a job obtained for him by the Iraqi embassy. When he was arrested in Qatar not long after 9/11, he had telephone numbers for the safe houses of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers. He was inexplicably released by the Qataris and promptly arrested again in Jordan as he attempted to return to Iraq.

‘There remains a dispute about whether this is the same Ahmed Hikmat Shakir that records discovered after the Iraq war list as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Saddam Fedayeen–the 9/11 Commission believes these are two different people–and whether Mr. Shakir thus represents an Iraqi government connection to 9/11. But there is no doubt that the Hussein regime, whatever its reasons, was eager to have the al Qaeda Shakir return to Iraq. It was aided and abetted to this end by Amnesty International.

‘We don’t recount this story to suggest Amnesty was actively in league with Saddam. But it shows that, even after 9/11, Amnesty still didn’t think terrorism was a big deal. In its eagerness to suggest that every detainee with a Muslim name is some kind of political prisoner, and by extension to smear America and its allies, Amnesty has given the concept of “aid and comfort” to the enemy an all-too-literal meaning.’

blank
blank
2022 years ago

>>> It’s an archipelago now?

Ever heard of Solzhenistyn’s book “The Gulag archipelago”?

In Russian “Archipelag Gulag”.

Gulag is an acronym from the Russian for “Chief Administration of Labor Camps”.

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
2022 years ago

“This is much more than a poor choice of words. It is emblematic of the decline of a once-great organisation. Ted gets one thing right, however: a ridiculous and intemperate lack of perspective obscured anything worthwhile Amnesty had to say on the subject.”

Quite so. These are the sort of lobbying organisations that are attractive to people who have been unsuccessful at achieving government/influence/authority through the ballot box. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with that or that there is necessarily an alternate action that “you lot” might take. I am merely making the observation. AI says something, I scoff. It wasn’t always so.

Even the RSPCA is starting to sound like PETA. I stopped donating to the RSPCA and paying a whole lot of attention to them too.

Somebody cheer me up and and tell me the Red Cross is still OK. The Salvo’s?

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

This article in Time demonstrates the ghastly excesses to which the Americans will descend, amply justifying Amnesia International’s charge. On one accasion, it seems, a detainee was even induced to confess by being forced to endure the proximity of a female. Clearly, no holds are barred at Gitmo.

http://www.time.com/time/press_releases/article/0,8599,1071230,00.html

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Couldn’t have a post with “Gulag” in the title without Rob! :) Nice to see you with the forces of niceness on this one, though. Sort of. Except I think you’re being ironic.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

My comment is certainly open to that interpretation, Mark.