Every so often Amnesty International has to toss a bone to its wealthy liberal contributors. Otherwise the Ted Turners and George Soroses may begin to wonder whether they are getting the best bang for their buck. No doubt its annual assault on the U.S. is the meatiest bone Amnesty International can serve up.
After all, what profit is there in constantly harping about third world dictators? Not only is it ineffective, but more important it's not going to make headlines. And headlines equal more donations. Besides we all know that conditions in Sudan, Haiti, Zimbabwe, etc., etc., are hellish. And what wealthy liberal wants to pick on a developing country? Haven't they endured enough suffering at the hands of the brutal European colonials? This explains why Amnesty International spends an inordinate amount of time trying to dig up dirt on countries like the U.S. and Britain (and not enough time on France, in my opinion).
Speaking of headlines, last week Amnesty International's Secretary General Irene Zubaida Khan called Guantanamo Bay "the Gulag of our time." The obvious reference was to the Soviet Union's notorious Gulag Archipelago, made infamous by Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn's memoir/history, called by one reviewer, "the modern equivalent of Luther's 95 Theses." Evidently, the Muslim head of Amnesty International has never found time to read Mr. Solzhenitsyn's book or even bothered to look up the word gulag on the online encyclopedia. If she had Ms. Zubaida Khan would have been amazed to learn that the 30 million inmates of the secret Soviet camps were by and large political prisoners, writers, and dissidents like Solzhenitsyn (arrested for writing a private letter criticizing Stalin), or Soviet soldiers welcomed home from years in German prison camps with a one-way ticket to Siberia. (Besides punishing dissidents, Lenin and Stalin had important economic reasons for the camps. It was due largely to this slave labor that the Soviet economy remained precariously afloat for 70 years.)
Gulag prisoners were systemically starved, beaten, and forced to labor in sub-zero weather. The lucky ones were shot immediately. In contrast, at Guantanamo Bay, 1,300 Korans in 13 different languages were handed out to prisoners. Prisoners are served "proper Muslim-approved food." The International Red Cross has been monitoring the camp from Day One. Gen. Richard Myers noted that the organization has consistently given the U.S. high marks for the way it takes care of terrorists. What is Amnesty's biggest beef about Gitmo? That some guards "mishandled" a book.
Nevertheless Amnesty International's "gulag" reference came as a bit of a surprise. The left has been notoriously silent about the gulags. It is normally a chapter in the history of socialism they prefer to leave out. On the other hand, the fact that Amnesty International used the term shows how little respect the left has for the tens of millions that suffered the hell of the gulag. You would never hear Amnesty International call Guantanamo Bay the "Auschwitz of our Time." Auschwitz is sacred to the memory of the Jews and Poles who died there. The gulag? That's not sacred. Just a failed experiment.
A final "minor" point. The gulag prisoners were innocent. The roughly 650 prisoners that have gone through Guantanamo Bay, on the other hand, are terrorists and terrorist allies.
Ms. Zubaida Khan apparently cannot tell the difference between Solzhenitsyn and Bin Laden.
By making such asinine comparisons, Amnesty International risks losing whatever credibility it has left. This is unfortunate because the organization normally does important work. However, Amnesty is caught in a Catch-22 situation. It can risk losing its credibility by throwing a bone to its wealthy liberal donors, or risk losing its funding. Amnesty has obviously chosen to risk its credibility.
If nothing else good came out of the recent "gulag" stories, I was encouraged to go back and reread some of The Gulag Archipelago. How nice to be reminded that Solzhenitsyn's masterpiece contains some of the most darkly humorous and lyrically beautiful writing of the 20th century:
We have been happily borne -- or perhaps have unhappily dragged our weary way -- down the long and crooked streets of our lives, past all kinds of walls and fences made of rotting wood, rammed earth, brick, concrete, iron railings. We have never given a thought to what lies behind them. We have never tried to penetrate them with our vision and our understanding. But here is where the Gulag country begins, right next to us, two yards away from us. In addition, we have failed to notice an enormous number of closely fitted, well-disguised doors and gates in these fences. All those gates were prepared for us, every last one! And all of a sudden the fateful gate swings open, and four white male hands, unaccustomed to physical labor but nonetheless strong and tenacious, grab us by the leg, arm, collar, cap, ear, and drag us in like a sack, and the gate behind us, the gate to our past life, is slammed shut once and for all.
I intend to send Irene Zubaida Khan my copy. It's a little worn, so perhaps it's time I found another.