by | May 29, 2005 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

On a weekend when we praise those who serve in our military, you might want to know how that military is being criticized.

Last week, Amnesty International issued its annual report. In it, the United States was criticized for:

* Thumbing “its nose at the rule of law and human rights.”

* Abuse and mistreatment of prisoners.

* Not acting quickly enough on legal challenges from detainees.

* Attempting to “redefine” torture.

* Making a “mockery of justice.”

And, in the wallop sentence that Amnesty Secretary General Irene Khan knew would make headlines, Guantanamo Bay was called “the gulag of our times.”

The gulag of our times? Wow. How embarrassing. You feel like the kid who comes home with a black eye and tells his parents, “Before you say anything, you should see the other guy.”

Except that, in the Amnesty International Report, we don’t see the other guy.

And that’s the problem.

U.S. makes an easy target

We don’t see pages devoted to Osama bin Laden, or a call for him to be “fair” to prisoners.

We don’t see criticism of Iraqi insurgents’ “policies,” or a call for them to cease their beheadings because they violate the Geneva Conventions.

We don’t see the condemning of terror groups for trying to “redefine” torture (and after all, sending jets into buildings certainly redefined things).

We don’t see any of that. In fact, when you pull up Amnesty International’s report, you can scroll through an alphabetical list of countries and find complaints about each one.

But after Algeria comes Angola, with no Al Qaeda in sight.

It must be very convenient for Amnesty to send people with clipboards to observe prisoner treatment. (Or, as was the case with Guantanamo, because they couldn’t get in, observing a few trials and talking with detainees’ relatives in Yemen.)

But there were no Amnesty people present when Daniel Pearl had his head cut off. There were no Amnesty people taking notes when suicide bombers blew up U.S. soldiers.

The attitude of groups like Amnesty International can be summed up by a shrug and a finger wag. The shrug is for the world’s evil-mongers who are somehow beyond hope and therefore, apparently, beyond much criticism.

The finger wag they save for us.

Every country has responsibilities

Now, I am not defending the abuses in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo. They need to be addressed. They are, and should be, an embarrassment.

But like many Americans, when a London-based group, formed in the 1960s to protect the rights of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, wants to apply a standard to this country that is laughably beyond comparison to this country’s enemies, well, my sense of balance is insulted.

Last week, I spoke with Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. He said America must adhere to a higher code — if only for the ripple effect. He said in Egypt, for example, Hosni Mubarak’s iron fist against dissidents was being buoyed by our behavior.

Malinowski said: “He’s telling people, ‘Hey, don’t criticize me. I’m just doing what the Americans are doing.’ “

Well, no he’s not, for one thing. Secondly, let me get this straight about foreign strongmen. When they attack us, they blame us, and when they attack their own, they blame us, too? Who’s making the rules here?

Look. There have certainly been abuses, both military and political, in the “war on terror.” But we must remember, on Memorial Day weekend, that this is a different kind of war, that one person can wreak havoc on thousands, that information and communication are now lethal weapons.

This is no longer about taking a soldier’s gun away. People die who never donned a uniform. Any shopping mall can become a war zone. Given that, complaining about the speed of a foreign prisoner’s legal appeal is a bit puzzling, especially when an American’s head may be rolling on a floor, cut off by a knife.

As for Amnesty International’s shriek that Guantanamo is “the gulag of our times,” well, give it a few months. Times change pretty quickly these days.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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