Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Bush & World-Herald Share Playbook

by Kyle Michaelis
Amnesty International has unleashed a scathing report on U.S. violations of human rights under the Bush Administration. It's introduction reads:
The blatant disregard for international human rights and humanitarian law in the “war on terror” continued to make a mockery of President George Bush’s claims that the USA was the global champion of human rights. Images of detainees in US custody tortured in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq shocked the world. War crimes in Iraq, and mounting evidence of the torture and ill-treatment of detainees in US custody in other countries, sent an unequivocal message to the world that human rights may be sacrificed ostensibly in the name of security....

The US administration’s treatment of detainees in the “war on terror” continued to display a marked ambivalence to the opinion of expert bodies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and even of its own highest judicial body. Six months after the Supreme Court ruled that the federal courts had jurisdiction over the Guantánamo detainees, none had appeared in court. Detainees reportedly considered of high intelligence value remained in secret detention in undisclosed locations. In some cases their situation amounted to “disappearance”.
In presenting this report, Amnesty International's Secretary General Irene Khan elaborated further:
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. According to US official sources there could be over 100 ghost detainees held by the US.

In 2004 thousands of people were held by the US in Iraq, hundreds in Afghanistan and undisclosed numbers in undisclosed locations. AI is calling on the US Administration to "close Guantanamo and disclose the rest". What we mean by this is: either release the prisoners or charge and prosecute them with due process....

The US, as the unrivalled political, military and economic Super Power, sets the tone of governmental behaviour world-wide. By thumbing its nose at the rule of law and human rights, what message does the US send to repressive regimes who have little regard for the rule of law anyway? By lowering the human rights standards, the US has weakened its own moral authority to speak out on human rights.
How is this relevant Nebraska news? Mainly because the Omaha World-Herald, the state's largest newspaper, viciously attacked the motives of the report without refuting a single one of Amnesty International's largely well-documented claims. Their disingenuous attempt at defending U.S. policy went as follows:
• Many of the indictments of U.S. policies are being made far from the gritty realities of war, terrorism and interrogation by people who have only thirdhand accounts.

• Prisoner complaints, in some instances, have been given equal or greater weight in comparison with the explanations of military officers on the scene.

• The hunt for damning detention material sometimes exceeds in intensity that of some other legitimate areas of journalistic inquiry, leading to the likes of Newsweek's stumble.

This is not to dismiss the concerns. The documented cases of abuse at Abu Ghraib constituted, at best, a shameful breakdown of command and discipline. The Army has acknowledged other incidents, at Guantanamo as well, of behavior that flies in the face of any policy of respecting the detainees' religious and human rights.

The U.S. Army says they are isolated incidents. The critics say they are a logical outgrowth of U.S. policy. But if such treatment is condoned, as the critics say, why are the perpetrators being court-martialed?

These can be difficult concepts for the tenderhearted. All discomfort is not torture, and all stressful interrogation is not a war crime. Targeting terrorism on its turf can be dangerous and unpleasant work...

"Gulag of our time" is hateful, judgmental, demonstrably inaccurate and sufficiently biased to render inoperative any claim of objectivity by the authors of the Amnesty report.
The majority of Amnesty International's complaints were rooted in violations of the United States' own judicial standards. Notice that none of these claims were challenged by the World-Herald... or even mentioned in this classic example of misdirection (see manufactured link between this report and Newsweek's Koran article).

Unsurprisingly, in response to the report, President Bush took much the same approach, avoiding the very real and well-established issues of legal hypocrisy in favor of the entire reports' dismissal as the propaganda of boogeymen:
"I'm aware of the Amnesty International report, and it's absurd. It's an absurd allegation. The United States is a country that is -- promotes freedom around the world. When there's accusations made about certain actions by our people, they're fully investigated in a transparent way. It's just an absurd allegation.

In terms of the detainees, we've had thousands of people detained. We've investigated every single complaint against the detainees. It seemed like to me they based some of their decisions on the word of -- and the allegations -- by people who were held in detention, people who hate America, people that had been trained in some instances to disassemble -- that means not tell the truth. And so it was an absurd report. It just is."
Maybe declaring Guantanamo "the Gulag of our Time" was an unnecessary exaggeration, but using this mere soundbyte in the manner employed by Bush and the World-Herald - to obscure the meat of Amnesty International's report - is utterly despicable. Can't really blame them for using such a reprehensible tactic, though, as an honest defense from the charges at hand is all but impossible. Yes, they're shameless, but understandably so since both parties obviously have zero integrity and no legitimate alternatives.


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