Evolving Thoughts

Evolution, culture, philosophy and chocolate! John Wilkins' continuing struggle to come to terms with impermanence... "Humanus sum, nihil humanum a me alienum puto" - Terence

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

A gulag? Or just a concentration camp?

The Washington Post recently complained that the Amnesty Internation Report on human rights abuses was being unfair in comparing the Guantanemo Bay camp to the Soviet gulags. Many others have joined in, and today Prez Shrub dismissed it as "absurd" and written by "people who hate America". Well, not yet, George, but keep at it and we may all yet.

What did the report say? Actually the reports themselves were fairly measured in their tone. The "gulag" comment came from the Introduction by the Secretary General of Amnesty, Irene Khan:
Despite the near-universal outrage generated by the photographs coming out of Abu Ghraib, and the evidence suggesting that such practices are being applied to other prisoners held by the USA in Afghanistan, Guantánamo and elsewhere, neither the US administration nor the US Congress has called for a full and independent investigation.

Instead, the US government has gone to great lengths to restrict the application of the Geneva Conventions and to “re-define” torture. It has sought to justify the use of coercive interrogation techniques, the practice of holding “ghost detainees” (people in unacknowledged incommunicado detention) and the "rendering" or handing over of prisoners to third countries known to practise torture. The detention facility at Guantánamo Bay has become the gulag of our times, entrenching the practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law. Trials by military commissions have made a mockery of justice and due process.

The USA, as the unrivalled political, military and economic hyper-power, sets the tone for governmental behaviour worldwide. When the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights, it grants a licence to others to commit abuse with impunity and audacity. From Israel to Uzbekistan, Egypt to Nepal, governments have openly defied human rights and international humanitarian law in the name of national security and “counter-terrorism”.
Emphasis mine. The Wash Post, which I expected better of, complained that the gulags were a chain of detention camps, while Gitmo is only one. That makes me feel a whole lot better. Hell, they even deplore the same things mentioned in the Amnesty report. Is there anything in the comments by Khan here that one can sensibly object to? A gulag, according to the Wikipedia article, is in "the original Russian abbreviation, never in plural, described not a single camp, but the government institution in charge of the entire camp system". What is Gitmo? Well, it's the focus of an entire system of detention of unfriendly, or seen to be unfriendly, or might have been unfriendly in the view of the local military commander, persons in countries where the US doesn't have the unfettered right to do with these folk whatever it deems necessary. It's run by direct government dictate.

Is it unfair to call this a gulag? Is it unfair to compare the loss of human rights, ignorance of all the relevant international conventions, the physical mistreatment, isolation from their family and friends, denial of access to the due process of law, the public show trials, and so on of Guantanemo Bay to the Gulag? Gee, forgive me if I don't think so.

One other thing - the report outlines again and again that countries who have a drug export problem are tying it in with the "war on terror" (how does one fight an emotional reaction, I wonder?), and following the United States' example. Just as the Introduction notes, it has set a very bad example. And relating anything one happens to have a campaign against with this "war" allows the denial of rights and legal recourse for anyone the administration or its arms chooses to deny them to.

Gulag. Say it loud. It's Gulag.