Amnesty: Gitmo a “Gulag”

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)

See our last post on the ongoing torture scandal, and on the Amnesty report.

  1. Amnesty stands up
    From the New York Times:

    Rights Group Answers Bush

    Published: June 4, 2005

    To the Editor:

    President Bush’s characterization of Amnesty International’s criticisms of United States human rights abuses as “absurd” is ironic (news article, June 1).

    If our reports are so “absurd,” why did the administration repeatedly cite our findings about Saddam Hussein before the Iraq war? Why does it welcome our criticisms of Cuba, China and North Korea? And why does it cite our research in its own annual human rights reports?

    No amount of spin can erase the myriad human rights abuses committed by United States officials in the “war on terror.” The United States cannot simultaneously claim that it “promotes freedom around the world” while detaining tens of thousands at Guantánamo Bay, Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and in Iraq and other locations without charge or trial and allowing those civilian and military officials responsible for orchestrating a systematic policy of torture to escape accountability.

    Instead of attacking us, President Bush should insist upon a truly thorough, independent investigation of those who tried to circumvent global prohibitions on torture, and he should open all detention centers to scrutiny by independent human rights groups.

    Only then will the world be able to judge whether it is Amnesty International or the president whose perspective deserves to be called “absurd.”

    William F. Schulz
    Exec. Dir., Amnesty International
    New York, June 1, 2005