Amnesty International is not backing down from heavy criticism of the Bush administration's treatment of detainees in the war on terrorism. The human rights group's top official in the United States responded to recent denunciations by both President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
In a recent assessment of human rights worldwide, Amnesty International blasted the United States' indefinite detention of "enemy combatants" at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The human rights group also decried persistent allegations of torture and abuse of detainees in U.S. custody. Amnesty's secretary general went so far as to describe Guantanamo as "the gulag of our times," a reference to Soviet-era prison camps known for their brutality. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said such a comparison was "reprehensible."
Speaking on Fox News Sunday, the director of Amnesty International USA, William Schulz, acknowledged that U.S.-run detainee facilities are not concentration camps, but insisted they are not up to international human rights standards.
"People are not being starved in those facilities. They are not being subjected to forced labor. But there are some similarities," he said. "The United States is maintaining an archipelago of prisons around the world, many of them secret prisons, into which people are, literally, being 'disappeared,' held in indefinite, incommunicado detention, without access to lawyers or a judicial system, and, in some cases at least, we know that they are being mistreated, abused, tortured and killed."
Last Tuesday, an angry President Bush responded to the initial report.
"I am aware of the Amnesty International report, and it is absurd," he said. "The United States is a country that promotes freedom around the world. When there are accusations about certain actions by our people, they are fully investigated in a transparent way. It seems to me that they [Amnesty International] based some of their decisions [findings] on the word of people who were held in detention, people who hate America, people who have been trained to … not tell the truth."
A day later, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld dismissed the rights group's allegations. He said the detainees are suspected terrorists, and that some of those released from U.S. custody have since been recaptured because they were engaged in plots to harm the United States.
Speaking on CNN's Late Edition program, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said instances of detainee abuse by U.S. guards and interrogators are the rare exception, not the rule.
"It is very difficult to run a perfect prison anywhere, but the United States does that better than any other country in the world," he said.
But another senator, Democrat Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, said Congress should consider holding hearings to probe detainee treatment.
Amnesty International USA Director William Schulz stressed that the London-based group has no anti-American agenda.
"The important point is that Amnesty is not America-bashing, anymore than we are China-bashing or Cuba-bashing, or any other country-bashing, when we try to hold one universal standard up for countries to be judged on," he explained. "That is all we are interested in."
Mr. Schulz said President Bush and others in the administration have, in the past, quoted from Amnesty International reports critical of other nations, including Iraq under the former regime of Saddam Hussein.