Amnesty International’s annual report for 2005 wasn’t very flattering to the United States. The author was particularly critical of the way we detain suspected terrorists and enemy combatants at Guantánamo Bay, calling it “the gulag of our times.”
The AI report is pretty much same-old, same-old to the few of us who actually pay attention to such things. They’ve been increasingly critical of the US in recent years, becoming more shrill every year since the fall of the Soviet Union. Near as I can tell this is the first time that they’ve actually equated the US with the USSR, the most murderous regime in world history so far as sheer numbers of innocent victims are concerned.
(In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m not the R.J. Rummel featured in the last link. We’re not related, and I’ve never even met the guy. He knows his stuff, though.)
There seems to be three reasons why Amnesty International is doing this.
The first is that AI, like most NGO’s, is essentially powerless. For example, no rational person would claim that they had any sort of role in the collapse of the aforementioned Soviet Union. If AI can’t actually affect events themselves then the American voters represent the only real chance they have to do something concrete. If they can make enough of us feel bad then we might conform to their wishes and force our elected officials to do something.
The second seems to be that AI is showing a fair amount of knee-jerk anti-Americanism. The report obliquely admits that there are other countries in the world that have worse human rights records than the US, and even lists the US’s “rendition of prisoners to countries known to practice torture as evidence that the United States ‘thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights.’” But for some reason it’s not these other countries, where torture is routine government policy, but the US that is singled out for the lion’s share of criticism.
I have no doubt that the third reason why AI has upped the rhetoric is due to cold hard cash.
These NGO’s rely on private donations to survive. Even the biggest, the United Nations, needs the largess of big-hearted private citizens to fund some of its programs. (Anyone remember being a kid and carrying a cardboard UNICEF box along while trick-or-treating?)
The problem is that the credibility of these organizations has taken a hit in recent years. The US has proven through the Iraqi elections and tsunami relief efforts that we’re the guys who actually get things done in the world. The NGO’s talk a good fight and complain how our efforts will cause their donations to fall off, but they can’t seem to actually do anything.
People aren’t stupid, and it’s tough to hide anything in today’s world due to the electronic news media. If someone is actually concerned with saving lives during a natural disaster or championing human rights in the world, then they can easily see that they’re wasting their money and tighten up the purse strings.
But there is an alternative source of funds. There are also a fair number of people in the world that hates America and everything we stand for. They’re going to be willing to donate some cash to any organization that they perceive as giving the US a black eye. AI is simply keeping an eye on the bottom line. The more shrill and unrealistic they are where America is concerned, the more money they get. The fact that the source of these donations are individuals that almost certainly oppose AI’s core mission doesn’t matter as long as the checks don’t bounce.
This is why I would have been happier if everyone had just ignored the whole thing. The fact that AI managed to piss the Bush Administration off to the point where the White House is actually issuing statements will convince the anti-Americans that they’re getting value for their money. It will also be used by AI as proof that they’re actually a mover and shaker in the world, instead of a glorified coffee shop where the beatniks can hang out and complain about everything under the sun.
The best way to prove that something is insignificant is to act like it’s insignificant.
Sean Pelette has posted a reminder of what happens when there are real gulags.