Christian Science Monitor, Daniel Schorr Commentary, June 10, 2005
Commentary > Daniel Schorr
from the June 10, 2005 edition
Guantánamo: Not a 'gulag'; certainly a stain
By Daniel Schorr
WASHINGTON – The controversy over abuses at the Guantánamo detention camp has reached that uneasy bipartisan stage where Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter plans hearings this month, and Sen. Joseph Biden, ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, demands an independent inquiry and the closing of the camp.
Amnesty International undoubtedly committed a tactical error in speaking of "the gulag of our time," a reference to Stalin's murderous system of forced labor camps. That charge was "reprehensible," said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, without dwelling on details of mistreatment in the 308-page report, which concluded that the US was "one of the biggest disappointments in the human rights arena." William Schultz, director of Amnesty International USA, later acknowledged that the "gulag" reference was not meant as a literal analogy.
As some of about 540 detainees at Guantánamo are gradually released, we're likely to hear more stories of desecration of the Koran and ill treatment by interrogators. The Army has so far acknowledged only five cases of Koran abuse.
The New York Times detailed the story of one 19-year-old Muslim from Germany, who was picked up in Pakistan and held as a terror suspect, in Afghanistan and at Guantánamo, where he's been for three years, although no evidence against him was ever found. There will undoubtedly be more such stories.
The wave of anger, sometimes violent, that coursed through the Muslim world after one partly inaccurate item about Koran desecration appeared in Newsweek, is an indication of what can be expected if there are open Senate hearings.
Senator Biden said that Guantánamo has become "the greatest propaganda tool that exists for recruiting of terrorists around the world." Sen. Robert Byrd has proposed deleting funds for Guantánamo from the defense budget.
What can be called a "close Guantánamo" lobby has begun to form in the press. It is led by former President Jimmy Carter, who says that the facility is "a terrible embarrassment" to America's prestige. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman has called for shutting down the facility, calling Guantánamo "a national shame" and "a gift to America's enemies." CBS's Bob Schieffer wondered if the greatest danger is the impact Guantánamo is having on us. Talking of torture, he asked, "Do we want our children to believe this is how we are?"
By present appearances Guantánamo is likely to take a shameful place in American history alongside the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II.
• Daniel Schorr is the senior analyst at National Public Radio.
US Running 'Archipelago' of Secret Prisons: Amnesty International
Published on Monday, June 6, 2005 by Agence France Presse
US Running 'Archipelago' of Secret Prisons: Amnesty International
The US government is operating an "archipelago" of prisons around the world, many of them secret camps into which people are being "literally disappeared," a top Amnesty International official said.
Amnesty International executive director William Schulz criticized the administration of US President George W. Bush for holding alleged battlefield combatants in "indefinite incommunicado detention" without access to lawyers in an interview with Fox News Sunday.
Schulz was pressed to substantiate Amnesty's claim in a May 25 report that the US prison camp at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba naval base -- where hundreds of foreign terror suspects are being held indefinitely -- represents the "gulag of our times."
The gulag claim, referring to the notorious prison camp system of the Soviet Union, has drawn withering criticism from the US president, who called it "absurd." Vice President Richard Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have also slammed the rights group's claim.
Russian 1970 Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn described the Soviet prison camp system in his best-selling book "The Gulag Archipelago."
Schulz said the gulag reference was not "an exact or a literal analogy."
"But there are some similarities. The United States 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," Schulz told Fox.
Asked how AI could compare the detentions of millions of Soviet citizens in the gulag system to purported anti-US combatants captured on the battlefield, Schulz said some of those held in Guantanamo "happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"We do know that at least some of the 200 some prisoners who have been released from Guantanamo Bay have made pretty persuasive cases that they were imprisoned there, not because they were involved in military conflict but simply because they were enemies of the Northern Alliance," he said.
Schulz called for an official probe into the alleged rights abuses at US detention centers around the globe.
Amnesty refers in the May 25 report to Rumsfeld and US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as alleged "torture architects."
The United States "should be the one that should investigate those who are alleged at least to be architects of torture, not just the foot soldiers who may have inflicted the torture directly, but those who authorized it or encouraged it or provided rationales for it," Schulz said.
According to Amnesty, Rumsfeld provided "the exact rules, 27 of them in fact, for interrogations, some of which do constitute torture or cruel, inhumane treatment," Schulz said.
The Guantanamo Bay camp and US detention practices have been the subject of renewed debate in recent weeks, sparked by a Newsweek magazine report -- since retracted -- that Guantanamo interrogators flushed a Koran in a toilet to rattle Muslim prisoners.
Amnesty is not the only rights group to have called on Washington to investigate alleged abuses at the camp -- Schulz pointed to released FBI documents that also raised concerns about Guantanamo interrogations.
US officials insist such concerns are unfounded, and that the "war on terror" detainees are treated as humanely as possible.
US soldiers have been tried and punished for abusing detainees -- notably at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, where at least one captive died -- but US officials say those are isolated incidents.
The furor sparked by Amnesty's claims shows no signs of abating.
The New York Times said Sunday that the Guantanamo Bay prison should be closed down, saying it had become "a national shame" and a "propaganda gift to America's enemies."
"What makes Amnesty's gulag metaphor apt is that Guantanamo is merely one of a chain of shadowy detention camps that also includes Abu Ghraib in Iraq, the military prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and other, secret locations run by the intelligence agencies," the Times said.
The Washington Post, whose editorial page has been more critical of Amnesty's gulag claim, reported Sunday -- citing Schulz -- that Amnesty's donations have quintupled and new memberships have doubled in the past week since it released its report.
© Copyright 2005 AFP - Agence France Presse
An Administration's Amnesty Amnesia, from the Washington Post, Sunday, June 5, 2005
An Administration's Amnesty Amnesia
By Dana Milbank
Sunday, June 5, 2005; Page A04
The folks at Amnesty International are practically begging for a one-way ticket to Gitmo. After the human rights group issued a report late last month calling the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, "the gulag of our times," top officials raced to condemn Amnesty.
President Bush: "It's absurd. It's an absurd allegation."
Vice President Cheney: "I don't take them seriously. . . . Frankly, I was offended by it."
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld: "Reprehensible . . . cannot be excused."
Funny -- these officials had a different view of Amnesty when it was criticizing other countries.
Rumsfeld repeatedly cited Amnesty when he was making the case against Saddam Hussein, urging "a careful reading of Amnesty International" and saying that according to "Amnesty International's description of what they know has gone on, it's not a happy picture."
The White House often cited Amnesty to make the case for war in Iraq, using the group's allegations that Iraq executed dozens of women accused of prostitution, decapitated victims and displayed their heads, tortured political opponents and raped detainees' relatives, gouged out eyes, and used electric shocks.
Regarding Fidel Castro's Cuba, meanwhile, the White House joined Amnesty and other groups in condemning Castro's "callous disregard for due process."
And the State Department's most recent annual report on worldwide human rights abuses cites Amnesty's findings dozens of times.
"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," protested William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA.
But Schulz isn't protesting too much. In the past week, traffic on Amnesty's Web site has gone up sixfold, donations have quintupled and new memberships have doubled.