The latest player in our little tragedy is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, perhaps the least credible person of all to be addressing the issue. He says:
"To compare the United States and Guantanamo Bay to such atrocities cannot be excused," he said. "Free societies depend on oversight, and they welcome informed criticism, particularly on human rights issues. But those who make such outlandish charges lose any claim to objectivity or seriousness.
"Precious little has been written by [newspaper] editorial boards about the beheading of innocent civilians by terrorists, the thousands of bodies found in mass graves in Iraq, the allegations of rape of women and girls by U.N. workers in the Congo," he said. [emphasis added]
Hmmm. Now, I'm a pretty staunch critic of the UN, and the sex abuse allegations in the Congo are absolutely horrific. At the same time, the dynamic between that situation and the one here is quite interesting. On the one hand, if the UN wanted to pull a Rumsfeld(/Bush/Cheney), they could say something to the affect of:
"It's inappropriate for the United States to group the UN, an organization dedicated to peacekeeping and human rights, with some of the worst human rights violators in the world. The events in the Congo are indeed intolerable, and are being investigated. But the UN hardly compares to the level of brutality of the Hussein regime, and it's wrong to suggest we do."
How would I respond to a statement like this? Well, much the same way as I would to the responses the Bush administration has been giving to the Amnesty report. I'd say that the UN should not be immune from criticism simply because of its other good deeds, and that in any event it has far too high an opinion of itself. On the other hand, it is unproductive, biased, and wrong to imply that the UN rises to the same level of evil as Saddam Hussein. Replace "UN" with "US," and the argument still holds, in my opinion.
That's the similarity. The difference, of course, is that the UN isn't denying it's problem and is promising a full investigation. Contrast that to the Bush administration's stonewalling, and suddenly the comparison seems inapt indeed.
Meanwhile, Obsidian Wings has two more posts on the subject. Edward calls out the Bushies for their sudden...distrust...of Amnesty when in the run up to Iraq, they were the most credible people in the world (Pissed-Off Liberal) also runs with this theme). Hilzoy is confused about what the particular manner of how Amnesty made its allegations has to do with their veracity--IE, if the allegations are true, then shouldn't we concentrate on fixing them? Amen to that.
As usual, Andrew Sullivan gives a great sum-up:
Some of the rhetoric in Amnesty International's report on U.S. detainment policies is indeed excessive. It is simply wrong on every level to equate the United States' policy of detention, abuse, torture and rendition of terror suspects with the Soviet Union's vast domestic prison system, designed to perpetuate an evil totalitarianism. But equally, it is now indisputable that a network of secret prisons exists to detain and interrogate terror suspects, that some of those imprisoned are "ghost detainees" with no proper records or accounting, that abuse and torture have occurred in hundreds of cases, that this president signed a memo defining torture into near-non-existence, that there is no secure method for determining the guilt or innocence of the prisoners, and that all of this has decimated America's international reputation. It is equally indisputable that investigations into these incidents are simply not "fully investigated in a transparent way." Even the most egregious cases of murder, as in Bagram, are sometimes dismissed at first for lack of evidence. Incidents of Koran abuse were deemed "not credible" for a week, until five incidents were confirmed. Many, many other accusations are deemed baseless because the only willing testimony comes from prisoners and no investigation takes place. Further, military critics of administration policy are often fired; and the message from the top is unmistakable. These are simply facts. To describe criticisms of this policy and record as "absurd" is itself absurd. It bespeaks either stunning cynicism, or equally stunning denial. And it suggests to me that there will be no resolution to this profound problem coming from the administration itself. They're relying on the general public not to care, or to believe that the ends of preventing terror justify almost any means, including an end to America's proud history of decency toward prisoners in wartime. That makes it all the more incumbent on the Congress, the media and the part of the public that does love this country's reputation and humaneness to speak out and demand accountability. The odds are long, but we have no choice but to try.
One other thought that just occurred to me. This is one of the few times that the Bush administration has really let a negative story about itself spin out of its control. I mean, you have Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld dragged into this, and I have to think their comments have given the story a renewed life it would not otherwise have. Furthermore, I don't think they are coming out the better in these exchanges--they sound bitter and in denial. This comes as a capstone to a whole period where the Bushies have been getting nailed--Social Security Privatization looks dead in the water, the filibuster compromise came as a huge disappointment, Bolton has been huge embarrassment, and now this. Are they, perchance, getting rattled? The first murmurings of dreaded "lame-duck" status are being heard, even amongst conservatives (link: The Moderate Voice).
We'll see how this plays out (hopefully on issues other than Amnesty).
UPDATE: (Updates don't count as new posts, alright!?!) Frustrated as he is about the apathetic administration response to abuse allegation, Publius concedes that "Gulag" was at least as inappropriate as when Santorum compared filibustering Democrats to Nazis.