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Amnesty's Idiocy

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AMNESTY'S IDIOCY

John Podhoretz

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May 27, 2005 -- CAN it be? Did Amnesty In ternational, which purports to be the world's leading in dependent monitor of human rights abuses, describe the U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay as "the gulag of our times"?

Yes, it did. So let's do a few comparisons between Gitmo and the Gulag — the network of Soviet prison camps set up by Stalin in the 1920s.

Number of prisoners at Gitmo: approximately 600.

Number of prisoners in the Gulag: as many as 25 million, according to the peerless Gulag historian Anne Applebaum.

Number of camps at Gitmo: 1

Number of camps in the Gulag: At least 476, according to Applebaum.

Political purpose of Gulag: The suppression of internal dissent inside a totalitarian state.

Political purpose of Gitmo: The suppression of an international terrorist group that had attacked the United States, killing 3,000 people while attempting to decapitate the national government through the hijack of airplanes.

Financial purpose of Gulag: Providing totalitarian economy with millions of slave laborers.

Financial purpose of Gitmo: None.

Seizure of Gulag prisoners: From apartments, homes, street corners inside the Soviet Union.

Seizure of Gitmo prisoners: From battlefield sites in Afghanistan in the midst of war.

Interestingly enough, even the most damaging charge Amnesty International levels against the United States and its conduct at Gitmo — that our government has been guilty of "entrenching the practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law" — bears no relation to the way things worked when it came to the Gulag. Soviet prisoners were charged, tried and convicted in courts of law according to the Soviet legal code.

For this reason, Gulag prisoners like Vladimir Bukovsky and Anatoly Shcharansky (later Natan Sharansky) were able to gum up the Soviet legal works by using the letter of Soviet law against their captors and tormentors.

The problem with the Gulag wasn't that the letter of the law wasn't followed — that the prisoners were given "arbitrary and indefinite" sentences. It's that the charges were trumped up and confessions were coerced.

The situation at Gitmo is entirely different. No one argues that, at the very least, the vast majority of those imprisoned there were, in fact, al Qaeda personnel. The problem, according to those who scream about the unfairness at Gitmo, is that the prisoners aren't being treated as lawful combatants under the terms of the Geneva Convention or as prisoners of war.

They have been handled under special terms because they are stateless — because they granted their allegiance not to a country but to a terrorist group and because their nations of origin wouldn't have wanted them back, would have killed them if they had been returned there or would have foolishly released them to foment further terrorist activity.

The people who work at Amnesty International surely know something of the history of the Gulag. After all, the group was founded in part to serve as a watchdog of Communist human-rights abuse. They surely know that even though they might consider the American camp at Guantanamo Bay a terrible violation of human rights, it is a speck on a speck of a mote of dust compared to the Everest of horror that was the Soviet Gulag.

On the other hand, maybe not. Maybe the people who work at Amnesty International really do think that the imprisonment of 600 certain or suspected terrorists is tantamount to the imprisonment of 25 million slaves.

The case of Amnesty International proves that well-meaning people can make morality their life's work and still be little more than moral idiots

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