By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - Stung by Amnesty
International's condemnation of US detention
facilities in Iraq and elsewhere overseas, the
administration of President George W Bush is
indignation and even suggestions
that terrorists are using the world's largest
denunciation came from Bush himself during a White
House press conference on Tuesday. "I'm aware of
the Amnesty International report, and it's absurd.
The United States is a country that promotes
freedom around the world," he said, and added that
Washington had "investigated every single
complaint against [sic] the detainees."
"It seemed like [Amnesty] based some of
their decisions on the word and allegations by
people who were held in detention, people who hate
America, people [who] had been trained in some
instances to disassemble [sic] - that means not
tell the truth," Bush went on. "And so it was an
absurd report. It just is."
At issue is an
Amnesty report released last Thursday that
assailed US detention practices. Since its
release, a succession of top US administration
officials and their right-wing backers in the
major media has denounced the London-based group
in what appears increasingly like an orchestrated
effort to discredit independent human-rights
critics. A similar campaign appeared to target
Newsweek magazine earlier this month.
looks like a campaign," Human Rights Watch (HRW)
advocacy chief Reed Brody said on Tuesday.
"There's been a real drumbeat since Amnesty
published the report. It seems like there's an
attempt to silence critics."
reaction on Tuesday largely mirrored that of Vice
President Dick Cheney in an interview taped on
Friday and broadcast Sunday evening by CNN.
"For Amnesty International to suggest that
somehow the United States is a violator of human
rights, I frankly just don't take them seriously,"
the vice president said in response to Amnesty's
"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."
As to allegations of mistreatment of
detainees, Cheney argued, "if you trace those
back, in nearly every case, it turns out to come
from somebody who has been inside and been
released to their home country and now are
peddling lies about how they were treated".
Other senior officials have also weighed
in. Like Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
called the Amnesty report "absurd", while chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard
Myers, said it was "absolutely irresponsible" and
insisted that the detention camp at Guantanamo
Bay, Cuba, was a "model facility" where prisoners
have been treated "humanely".
secretary general, Irene Khan, made the specific
allegation against which the administration has
unleashed its fury. She referred to the overseas
network of US detention facilities established by
Washington in Iraq and elsewhere as part of what
it calls its "global war on terror", as "the gulag
of our times", a reference to the system of prison
and labor camps run during the Stalinist period of
the former Soviet Union.
Washington Post, normally a defender of
independent human-rights groups, objected to her
characterization as counter-productive, the Wall
Street Journal's neo-conservative editorial staff
jumped on it as "one more sign of the moral
degradation of Amnesty International".
Journal, which often reflects the views of
influential hardline policymakers such as Cheney,
called Amnesty a "highly politicized pressure
group" whose latest accusations "amount to pro-al
Anticipating the vice
president's CNN's remarks, the Journal, which also
has campaigned against the International Committee
of the Red Cross for criticizing Washington's
treatment of detainees, added that "a human-rights
group that can't distinguish between Stalin's
death camps and detention centers for terrorists
who kill civilians can't be taken seriously".
David Rivkin and Lee Casey, two lawyers
who often reflect the views of other members of
the right-wing nationalist Federalist Society and
who hold senior legal positions in the
administration, soon joined the Journal.
In an article published by the National
Review Online titled "Amnesty Unbelievable", the
two men charged that the organization's critical
report "says much more about the nature of Amnesty
International - and the agenda of similar
left-wing non-governmental organizations [NGOs] -
than it does about the human-rights record of the
Like the Journal, Casey
and Rivkin said they were incensed at the
suggestion by the head of Amnesty's US section,
William Schulz, that Pentagon chief Donald
Rumsfeld and other senior US officials who had a
role in authorizing abusive interrogation
practices should be prosecuted in foreign
jurisdictions for violations of the Geneva and
torture conventions committed against detainees if
the administration continued to reject calls by
human rights' and lawyers' groups for an
In their view,
Amnesty, "is trapped in a 20th-century mindset
where the greatest threat to individual life and
liberty stemmed from the actions of sovereign
governments. That is simply no longer the case".
NGOs, they added, "simply do not consider that the
defense of the American population, and the
vindication of each individual's right to live
without the threat or actuality of terrorist
attack, is their problem - and it is time they
Amnesty, however, has stood its
ground. "At Guantanamo, the US has operated an
isolated prison camp in which people are confined
arbitrarily, held virtually incommunicado, without
charge, trial or access to due process. Not a
single Guantanamo detainee has had the legality of
their detention reviewed by a court," despite a
Supreme Court ruling last year that provided
grounds to do so.
"Guantanamo is only the
visible part of the story. Evidence continues to
mount that the US operates a network of detention
centers where people are held in secret or outside
any proper legal framework - from Afghanistan to
Iraq and beyond," Amnesty added, noting that Bush
had failed to respond to these "longstanding
"It is worth also worth
noting," stressed Schulz, "that this
administration never finds it 'absurd' when we
criticize Cuba or China, or when we condemned the
violations in Iraq under Saddam Hussein."
Bush's and Cheney's insistence that the
detainees themselves concocted the reported abuses
also drew criticism.
"You really don't
have to look further than the Pentagon's own
reports," said Elisa Massimino, Washington
director of Human Rights First, formerly the
Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. "There's ample
substantiation of serious abuses," she said,
adding that the administration's "ostrich
approach" was dangerous. "The problems are there,
and they're going to continue to pose a risk to US
lives and policy until they're dealt with."
HRW's Brody echoed that view. "What is sad
is that this effort at damage control may work in
the US," he said, "but unless the administration
addresses the real issues of concern - torture,
rendition, disappearances, systematic humiliation
of Muslim prisoners - then the US image in the
world will continue to erode."
All material on this
website is copyright and may not be republished in any form without written
© Copyright 1999 - 2005 Asia Times
Office: Rm 202, Hau Fook Mansion, No. 8 Hau Fook St., Kowloon, Hong
11/13 Petchkasem Road, Hua Hin, Prachuab Kirikhan, Thailand 77110