Saturday, June 04, 2005

Putting the Shoe on the Other Foot

Still trying to catch up with what's going on in the world. Lots of talk about Amnesty International's harsh report on the way the U.S. in treating its prisoners in Guantanamo and elsewhere. I don't suppose I can add all that much intelligent commentary to what's out there, but it did cause a rare domestic disagreement. I normally don't take on Jim about politics, usually because disagreement on my part will ends up with my being on the receiving end of an hour-long lecture on why I'm wrong, naive, etc. (It's a family joke; my kids have noted the same trait in their dad. I don't lecture on such things; I just blog. :-)) However, after watching O'Reilly, the topic naturally came up, and I said that the Third World dictators that Anmesty takes on over their human rights abuses probably aren't real fond of that organization, either, and say it's unfair, absurd, etc. But Americans are just fine with having those guys roasted; we just don't want the same standard applied to us.

Just like one of Amnesty's representatives said:

Amnesty has fired right back, pointing out that the administration often cites its reports when that suits its purposes. "If our reports are so 'absurd,' why did the administration repeatedly cite our findings about Saddam Hussein before the Iraq war?" wrote William F. Schultz, executive director of the group's United States branch, in a letter to the editor being published Saturday in The New York Times. "Why does it welcome our criticisms of Cuba, China and North Korea? And why does it cite our research in its own annual human rights reports?"

Depends on whose ox is being gored. The rest of the article is here.

Jim launched into a big lecture about how Anmesty International is a lot like the ACLU -- an organization that started out doing good things, but came under the influence of far-left radicals and went off the deep end, yada, yada, yada. Instead of my normal tack of ignoring that stuff, I interrupted him and said "You know, that's bullshit. I don't give a damn about their politics. The question is 'Is our military torturing and mistreating people or is it not?' And if they are, it's wrong, and that's all there is to it." Jim still thinks it's all just a matter of a handful of people going too far, and not a systemic thing. I think that's bullshit, too, but was disinclined to cry "Bullshit!" twice in the same conversation.

O'Reilly also took on a mom who is opposed to military recruitment in schools, and definitely doesn't want her son serving. Actually, he wasn't as nasty as I've seen him be to some people, but it still was the old "How can you not support the military when you've got young guys fighting for your freedom out there?" This mom responded, like I would have, that the soldiers in Iraq aren't doing a whole lot for our freedom, then O'Reilly just dodged towards talking about the War on Terror in general. Maybe, if they're short on soldiers, and really interested in getting the thugs who attacked us, maybe they should have more soldiers doing that, rather than messing around in Iraq? Why should we trust a government that lied to us, and isn't making us any safer?


Paul said...

Amnesty is actually hyper-careful about not taking sides politically - I've never been that closely involved, did a bit of letter-writing during my first degree and all that - but they actually try to balance out their cases, so that at any time you'll be writing letters to people imprisoned without trial, or for their political beliefs in both right-wing and left-wing regimes. I recall someone telling me this at an introductory meeting, and thinking that this was a little silly, since it seems unlikely to me that in fact, at any one time, human rights abuses will be evenly distributed in this numerically naive way.

Something else that they do, which does make a lot more sense, is that they never let people work on investigating cases in their own country. This is both for the reason of avoiding bias (sometimes, as you note, it's tough to accept that a government you might support could be falling short), and also for a certain amount of protection (a totalitarian regime is less likely to imprison/kill a foreign visitor who is trying to find out where disappeared people have got to than one of its own citizens - first step is likely to be to attempt to deport them).

I tended to find that AI was respected and admired, even by the sort of people who I thought had no serious interest in politics and human rights at all.

Up until Guantanomo Bay, most of the criticism of the USA in Amnesty reports was based on AI's absolute opposition to the death penalty rather than abuses of judicial process and attempts to evade conventions about Prisoners of War.


Karen said...

Up until Guantanomo Bay, most of the criticism of the USA in Amnesty reports was based on AI's absolute opposition to the death penalty rather than abuses of judicial process and attempts to evade conventions about Prisoners of War.

Well, up until the recent war, we had a pretty good record on such things. Jim mentioned AI's opposition to the death penalty during our conversation -- this has been a gripe of conservatives about AI for a long time. What I'm concerned about is fairness: If you're opposed to the death penalty, then you're opposed to it everywhere. If you stand against torture and human rights abuses, you stand against them everywhere. So, it seems to me like AI has been pretty fair about such things; no reason why the U.S. should have some kind of special dispensation to avoid censure.

This administration has to pooh-pooh this report, but I wonder why the hell conservatives feel they have to do the same. There are plenty of conservative reasons to criticize Bush!