Amnesty International is defending its description of Guantánamo prison as a “gulag,” and urges the US to allow independent investigations of allegations of torture at its detention centers for terrorism suspects. A verbal feud between Amnesty and Washington has escalated since the group’s new annual report compared Guantánamo Bay to the brutal Soviet system of forced labor camps where millions of prisoners died. President Bush dismissed the report as “absurd” the Amnesty report, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called the description “reprehensible.”
“The administration’s response has been that our report is absurd, that our allegations have no basis, and our answer is very simple: if that is so, open up these detention centers, allow us and others to visit them,” Amnesty International secretary general Irene Zubaida Khan told a news conference.
The US holds about 520 men at Guantánamo, where they are denied rights accorded under international law to prisoners of war. Many have been held without charge for more than three years.
Khan rejected a suggestion that Amnesty’s use of the emotive term “gulag” had turned the debate into one over semantics, and distracted attention from the situation in the detention centers. “What we wanted to do was to send a strong message that … this sort of network of detention centers that has been created as part of this war on terrorism is actually undermining human rights in a dramatic way which can only evoke some of the worst features of human rights scandals of the past,” she said. (Reuters, June 5)