T Nation

From the Toronto Star Even!

Surprising for such a left wing, anti American birdcage liner:

Picture this:

" "

Fill in the blank and what you often have, at least in the modern lexicon, is punctuation shorthand for credulity ? a dubious statement, a disingenuous premise, a derisive reference.

Traditionally, quotation marks have been reserved for, obviously, quotations. But somewhere along the line, those double-shift commas took on a new meaning. They are the typographical equivalent of a raised eyebrow.

Indeed, the designation has become so ubiquitous that people actually make little semaphoring gestures using the first two digits of each hand to symbolically bracket a fragment of conversation, as if to say, well, as if.

It speaks volumes that Amnesty International, in its 308-page annual report for 2005 ? formally released on Wednesday ? cannot bring itself to mention terrorism or the war on terrorism without hanging cautionary quotation marks around those words.

This unsubtle, mocking gesture ? a hyper-neutrality ? suggests terrorism is not a quantifiable fact in our lives and that the war on terrorism is somehow a duplicitous objective, perhaps a conspiracy hatched in the Pentagon rather than a global response to a legitimate threat already unleashed in widespread atrocities, from 9/11 to the bombings in Madrid and Bali.

Terrorism is thornier to define these days than necessary. The United Nations has grappled with it. In its narrowest interpretation, a consensus exists that terrorism is intentional violence against civilians (noncombatants), intended to intimidate or instill fear.

But Amnesty International, once a respected advocate for the human rights of political prisoners around the world, has been so deeply compromised by the relativist exculpation for slaughter and abuse that it can, without a hint of shame, and in the same paragraph, segue from the Sudan to the United States, from the colossal brutality in the Darfur region to the detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

The Sudan and the U.S. are two countries mentioned most notably by the organization’s secretary general, Irene Khan, in her forward to the report.

There are 153 countries canvassed in the Amnesty tome, including the most reprehensible of totalitarian regimes. Yet the brunt of the editorial scourge ? in the passages most widely cited in news reports ? is reserved for America, not just for its rightly condemned mistreatment of suspected terrorists, including the abhorrent torture that was inflicted on detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, but for generically and systematically “thumbing its nose at the rule of law and human rights.” Such alleged disdain for the rule of law and the preeminence of human rights has, Amnesty contends, provided a green light for tyrants around the world, who need only to cloak their abuse of power within the rubric of the war on terror. As if dictators ever needed the thumbs-up from Washington to oppress their own populations.

This amoral equivalency would put the U.S. on a par with, oh, Haiti and North Korea.

Amnesty International may be loath to validate the “so-called war on terrorism,” hence its careful expression of language. But there’s no such restraint in its rhetorical assaults on the U.S.

Guantanamo Bay, as an example, "has become the gulag of our times.’’

The American military base in Cuba may indeed be a rotten place where mostly Muslim detainees have been ill-treated and humiliated. But a gulag? As in the Soviet forced labour camps, which some 20 million miserable souls passed through during the Stalinist era, their existence not even acknowledged, their fate largely unknown?

The Washington Post, a liberal paper that is not beloved by the U.S. administration, properly scolded Amnesty International yesterday for the hyperbolic tenor of its report. Lately, the Post wrote in an editorial, "the organization has tended to save its most vitriolic condemnations not for the world’s dictators but for the United States.’’

The Post has been a leader among news organizations that have vigorously investigated and documented reports of abuse at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. It cannot be accused of cowering before the Pentagon, the secretary of defence or the president. Guantanamo Bay, it noted yesterday, is an “ad hoc creation designed to contain captured enemy combatants in wartime.” And America is a nation at war, with some 139,000 troops in Iraq.

Abuses at Guantanamo have been investigated repeatedly, if not sufficiently in the view of some. What may be going on there is discussed endlessly in the media. This is an internal debate in America, as much as it is an international issue.

But by no stretch of the imagination, even if the worst allegations are true, is Guantanamo a gulag. This is a preposterous exaggeration, and that’s important to emphasize because the Amnesty report uses Guantanamo as a symbolic reference point. As the Post reminds us, the modern equivalent of a gulag "is not Guantanamo Bay but the prisons of Cuba, where Amnesty itself says a new generation of prisoners of conscience reside; or the labor camps of North Korea, which were set up on Stalinist lines; or China’s loagai, the true size of which isn’t even known; or, until recently, the prisons of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.’’

The editorial continues:

“Worrying about the use of a word may seem like mere semantics, but it is not. Turning a report on prisoner detention into another excuse for Bush-bashing or America-bashing undermines Amnesty’s legitimate criticisms of U.S. policies and weakens the force of its investigations of prisoner systems in closed societies. It also gives the administration another excuse to dismiss valid objections to its policies as `hysterical.’”

It is also symbolically pertinent that Amnesty International steadfastly refuses to use the term terrorist, even within quotation marks, when describing murderous insurgents in Iraq who target civilians and police trainees, despite the fact that communiqu?s from some of these groups readily define them as belonging either to Al Qaeda or its associate cabals. Instead, as it does throughout its report, Amnesty describes these extremist elements as "armed groups’’ and their atrocities as “abuses by armed groups.” (In the Iraq chapter, naturally, “torture and ill-treatment by U.S.-led forces” are documented first.)

And while the report’s authors identify, by name, some of the Iraqi civilians detained in miserable conditions or killed by those U.S.-led forces, it offers no such courtesy of identification for hostages who have been beheaded by “armed groups.” In the Iraq section, you will not find the names of Nicholas Berg … Kim Sun-il … Durmus Kumdereli … Kenneth Bigley … Shosei Koda …

They were demonstrably held prisoner and executed, but they merit no mention in a report by Amnesty International.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the section on Canada. Oh yes, we’re in there, cited for (among other things) violence against indigenous women and girls, the case of Maher Arar (a Canadian citizen deported from the U.S. to Syria where he was allegedly tortured), and changes to our refugee claimant system.

Also, and specifically, the report writes unhappily about the use of Taser guns by police in Canada, stating that six men died in separate incidents as a result. “The authorities announced reviews of the use of Taser guns, but failed to suspend their use until an independent study was carried out.”

This item is factually incorrect.

Dr. James Cairns, Ontario’s deputy chief coroner, analyzed nine Canadian deaths that allegedly resulted from the use of those powerfully shocking Tasers. He concluded the deaths were primarily the result of cocaine overdoses.

Only two months ago, the Toronto Police Services Board approved the purchase of 100 more Tasers, expanding their use beyond elite tactical and emergency units. Front-line supervisors in three of Toronto’s busiest divisions should receive the Tasers shortly. After three months, the results will be evaluated.

Even the Toronto Star, which can hardly be accused of sucking up to cops, approved of the police board’s decision. A March editorial observed: "Concern is warranted over the health impact of a device delivering a paralyzing jolt of electricity. However, a Taser can potentially save lives by giving police officers an alternative to using their guns. It is worth investigating.’’

I wonder about the accuracy of other claims and often unattributed “reports” in the Amnesty International casebook.

I don’t wonder about the integrity of it all.

Make that “integrity.”