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  • Inflated Importance

    Posted by James R. Rummel on May 31st, 2005 (All posts by )

    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 White House was quick to reply. Spokesman Scott McClellan dismissed the charges out of hand, stating that the US leads the world in promoting human rights.

    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.

    UPDATE
    Sean Pelette has posted a reminder of what happens when there are real gulags.

     

    13 Responses to “Inflated Importance”

    1. SparcVark Says:

      It’s unfortunate to see Amnesty International succumbing to politics, not least because I am becoming more and more worried about what’s going on at Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. I’d like to support some organization that is against torture, all forms and all places.

      Mixing politics with ideals means I’m never sure whether outfits like AI are protesting because of genuine misconduct, or doing so for political advantage.

    2. Lex Says:

      I used to work for a guy who was involved with AI. He had all these great stories about forcing some Chilean diplomat to flee the country because he was afraid he’d get arrested for some complicity in the nastiness associated with Pinochet’s coup. I pointed out that at that time in New York there were Russians running around who were complicit in the invasion of Afghanistan, that killed hundreds of thousands of people and drove millions into exile, so why not try to have them arrested from crimes against humanity. He looked at me with total incomprehension. He literally did not know what I was talking about.

      Amnesty International is about holding AMERICA’S feet to the fire, or going after people who are a allied with or associated with America. It has always been political.

    3. Steve Says:

      James,
      “They’re going to be willing to donate some cash to any organization that they perceive as giving the US a black eye.”

      Who could “They” be? Hmmm. Saudi Princes with deep pockets? I remember a $10M check that Giuliani had to return after 911. How about George Soros’ and friends? Rob Reiner and his Hollywood riff-raff?

      Is there any way to get a list of AI’s donors on-line? That would make some good reading.
      -Steve

    4. Mitch Says:

      I was actually a member in the ’70’s, about the same time I was giving up on the Democratic party. They were firmly impartial at that time. The idea that people should not be jailed, tortured, or executed for the peaceful expression of their political or religious beliefs was something I thought we could all agree on. It’s sad that they sold out to the left. Their original mission is one that needs doing, but I don’t see them doing it any longer. Look at their own write-up on Venezuela. Did you notice even a mention of the murderous Chavez regime in their last pronunciamento?

      If they had bothered to look over the barbed wire at Guantanamo, they would have seen that Castro only holds about 300 political prisoners. That enviable record was achieved by executing several thousand others, so as to bring the numbers down.

      AI now makes me sick.

    5. Mace Says:

      “They’ve been increasingly critical of the US in recent years, becoming more shrill every year since the fall of the Soviet Union.”

      Boy, doesn’t this just describe about every leftist group out there?? We took away their “Utopia” and they’re pissed.

    6. Sean Pelette Says:

      Apparently with both the Taliban and Hussein gone from the human rights abuse revue there is need for a new villain.

    7. James R. Rummel Says:

      Is there any way to get a list of AI’s donors on-line? That would make some good reading.

      I’ve come across a few comapnies that are willing to sell me the lists for several thousand dollars. The cheapest so far is $7,000.00 USD.

      Too rich for my blood.

      James

    8. Kevin Fleming Says:

      It is sad to watch the increasing irrelevance of NGOs like Amensty Int’l. Much like the NY Times, they have over time transformed their raison d’être from truth-telling to agenda-pushing. As a result, they have frittered away their credibility, and now exist only as reliable fellow travellers.

      For AI it is far worse, however. Where once they exposed the horrors committed by criminal governments, now they use exaggeration and cant merely to villify the US. In the process, they commit the sin Thucydides described in his History of the Peloponnesian War. Words lose their meaning, becoming merely subverted to political ends.

      As a result, words like “gulag” lose their ethical force, and the memory of real suffering is ignored or deleted. Much like hurling epithets such as “Nazi” around like so much mud, these words become mere emotional volleys, yet signify nothing. To use the real victims of state violence merely to raise funds is shameful. They abuse the gulag dead much like Stalin did: to achieve a goal. In this then they become the monsters they fought.

      (Falstaff: “What is honour? a word. What is that word, honour? Air.”
      King Henry the Fourth, Act V. Scene I
      )

    9. Mark Says:

      Kevin, you’re right: Words [can]lose their meaning, becoming merely subverted to political ends.

      Lately we’ve been toying with words like “islamo” “gangster” and “fascist.” The concensus is that words have changed in their meaning lately. In this case “gulag” is probably close enough for government work.

      The basic charge of AI is that “the United States “has operated an isolated prison camp in which people are confined arbitrarily, held virtually incommunicado, without charge, trial or access to due process. Not a single Guantanamo detainee has had the legality of their detention reviewed by a court, despite the Supreme Court ruling of last year.”

      If we like the idea that the US is setting the bar as far as democracy goes, then we might be a bit concerned about such a characterization. Of course, we can say it’s all politics, or all power, or all money–but life as people live it is a wonderful mix of motives–no?

      If the basic elements of the AI criticism are mistaken, then a logical line of attack would be to discredit their arguments by showing how the detainees have been given access to counsel, have been charged, and been given trials in a reasonable amount of time. These may not be things “illegal combatants” have rights to, but because of the righteousness of democracy they are things we would willingly extend to show the rest of the world the superiority of our system–no?

      On the other hand, if the basic outlines of the AI complaint are valid, then the criticism would probably touch a raw nerve. The model followed in cases such as this is to attack the credibility and the motivation of the organization involved. James has articulated this line of attack quite elegantly. After his lengthy and spirited attack on AI James does offer this observation: “I would have been happier if everyone had just ignored the whole thing.”

      James is right. To have the president, vice-president, and secretary of defense all gang up on an NGO report indicates some kind of a lapse of perspective. It results in the Lady Catherine de Burgh paradox: “Your coming to Longbourn, to see me and my family,” said Elizabeth coolly, “will be rather a confirmation of it; if, indeed, such a report is in existence.”

    10. James R. Rummel Says:

      If the basic elements of the AI criticism are mistaken, then a logical line of attack would be to discredit their arguments by showing how the detainees have been given access to counsel, have been charged, and been given trials in a reasonable amount of time. These may not be things “illegal combatants” have rights to, but because of the righteousness of democracy they are things we would willingly extend to show the rest of the world the superiority of our system–no?

      Two of the requirements for a reasoned debate is to both avoid constructing straw men, and to avoid getting distracted by them.

      The point of the post is hardly that the United States is perfect, but if comparison to the most murderous regime in all of history is valid. The objection to the AI report isn’t that they might have a point, but if refusing to allow a few dozen enemy combatants and suspected terrorists access to independent counsel is the equivalent to slaughtering tens of millions of innocent people.

      Because, after all, that’s essentially the crime AI is accusing the Bush administration of when they compare Gitmo to a gulag.

      So it’s indescribably easy to discredit AI’s arguements. There aren’t mountains of innocent dead at Gitmo.

      They’re wrong. Case closed.

      James

    11. Ginny Says:

      Re: Amnesty International. Sullivan links to this which ineffectually links to this. The amounts given are modest, but searching for Amnesty International, the homogeneity is interesting.
      Belmont Club‘s comments are unusually brief and also unusually strong. (This is cached – seems to have disappeared from his constantly evolving site.)
      Instapundit notes (on different days) that
      Publius Pundit does a google experiment of mentions of countries & violations of human rights and to the lengthy analysis of charges of abuse and the sentences handed down, etc.; this is quite specific at The Q&O Blog.

    12. Mark Says:

      James,
      You’re right if you frame the argument in your terms. But your frame obscures the picture. The soviet gulag was deadly and almost incomprehensible in its enormity. Granted. AI was melodramatic in their comparison, and that’s silly; but that’s going around, and comes around.

      What is sad is that we have americanized part of the experience of the gulag, and worse, we excuse it. When we deny detainess dignity and due process we degrade and humiliate them.

      When we said that they weren’t eligible for prisoner of war treatment, I think we made a mis-step. We lost the moral high ground; we lost a lot in that moment, and we continue to lose until we find some compassion and provide decently for those we have imprisoned.

    13. Anonymous Says:

      In the 80s I was a donor to AI. At that time, while they were critical of the US wrt racial discrimination and capital punishment, they were at least honest enough to inform the public that it was much easier to gather evidence of human rights abuse in nations that were open or partially open societies. Hence, there were pages of documented abuses from, say, South Africa, but nothing from N. Korea or Albania. The situation hasn’t changed. The US is still a “soft target”.