Friday, June 10, 2005

Weekly Jackass Number Twenty-Six: Irene Kahn

On May 25, 2005, Amnesty International's General Secretary Irene Kahn unleashed a firestorm (in some ways intentionally, to be sure - Amnesty certainly doesn't shy away from publicity) with the following comment made during a speech to the Foreign Press Assocation: "Guantanamo has become the gulag our times". The statement, incredibly, was even more inflammatory than the soundbite:

Guantanamo has become the gulag our times, entrenching the notion that people can be detained without any recourse to the law. If Guantanamo evokes images of Soviet repression, "ghost detainees" - or the incommunicado detention of unregistered detainees - bring back the practice of "disappearances" so popular with Latin American dictators in the past.

The comparison is not only slanderous, it shows a lack of historical understanding. The Gulag, or Main Directorate for Corrective Labor Camps, was a system of labor camps in Soviet Russia. It was defined by a complete lack of regard for the safety and well-being of the prisoners:
Conditions in the camps were extremely harsh. Prisoners received inadequate food rations and insufficient clothing, which made it difficult to endure the severe weather and the long working hours; sometimes the inmates were physically abused by camp guards. As a result, the death rate from exhaustion and disease in the camps was high.
Now, to be sure, Gitmo is a prison, and prisons are not summer camps, but there are no long working hours, unsufficient clothing, rampant disease, frequent abuse, and inadequate rations at Guantanamo Bay. Irene Kahn knows this; so do you; so does every thinking member of the human race.

Even the Kossacks (well, some of them) are pulling back from this inexcusable hyperbole that undermines the very credibility of the organization. Nick Cohen of the UK's Observer put it this way:
If they [AI] exclude the millions who died of starvation, disease and exhaustion, they will find that 776,098 prisoners were murdered in summary executions in the gulag between 1930 and 1953. At Guantanamo Bay, no one has died of starvation, disease or exhaustion and no prisoners have been executed. Not one. If Amnesty's American obsession prevents it from seeing the worst crimes of the 20th century for what they are, how will it sound the alarm about the worst of the 21st?
Three quarters of a million people over a period of 24 years, or roughly 30,000 a year. That's a staggering crime against humanity, and Gitmo in no way, shape, or form, even falls in the same category.

Irene isn't likely to care, though; in the same article, Cohen makes the argument that it is ideology rather than concern for human rights that marks Khan's public statements:
To Khan, the human-rights agenda is passe and maybe an example of cultural imperialism. 'Amnesty has a middle-class, Western, complacent, white image in many parts of the world,' she told the Financial Times magazine.
To see further examples of the crazed ideological bent Khan has bestowed upon a once-proud organization, consider some other, less publicized quotes from the May 25 speech:
There can be no sustainable security strategy without justice and respect for human rights. The continued violence in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Despite the building of the Wall - in defiance of international law, the most stringent restrictions on freedom of movement of Palestinians, and the biggest demolition of houses in recent years, the security situation remains precarious.
Well, yes...the situation remains precarious because Palestinian suicide bombers are in the habit of murdering Israeli citizens, but that apparently isn't any of Khan's concern. Note that there would be no wall had there been no Second Intifada.
In 2004, far from any sign of principled leadership, we saw a new and dangerous agenda in the making, rewriting the rules of human rights, discrediting the institutions of international cooperation and usurping the language of justice and freedom to promote policies that create fear and insecurity.
My goodness...who would put forth such a terrifying agenda? North Korea? Zimbabwe? Continues Khan:
The US is leading this agenda, with the UK, European states, Australia and other states following.
Well, that's a relief, it's only the U.S., Europe, U.K., Australia, and 'other states'; I might have been concerned if she had been talking about the civilized world, like, oh, Cuba.

Let's be clear (and there are many, many more examples, tedious mountains of them, that would take a week to go through), Khan is not pursuing a humanitarian agenda, but a political one. Those who are interested in truly solving problems do not engage in blatant propaganda of this magnitude. Demagoguery is seldom persuasive, nor is it intended to be. Instead, it is code to the progressive donors that 'I'm one of you. I'm not one of the evil capitalists. You can trust me.'

The shame of it is that the world needs an effective voice for those whose cries are but dimly heard, for those suffering under the tyranny of the North Korean nightmare, for the hundreds of thousands of dead and dying in Darfur, for the poor souls in China who suffer true political repression of the worst sort. That voice cannot be provided, at least not to thinking Americans, by Amnesty International; at least, that is, while it is under the leadership of our twenty-sixth Weekly Jackass, Irene Kahn.

UPDATE 06/10/05 10:52 a.m. central: Many thanks to Betsy Newmark for the link...hope everyone is enjoying their weekend...and welcome to readers of the first Carnival of the Clueless...

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