Wednesday, June 8, 2005

A document worthy of a 'Gitmo' flush

Commentary by David Reinhard


David Reinhard

The words seemed strong even for an administration known for blunt talk. "Ridiculous, "absolutely irresponsible," "absurd" -- Amnesty International's attack on the U.S. handling of Guantanamo detainees prompted blasts by everyone from the White House press secretary to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs to the secretary of state. Even Vice President Cheney and President Bush got into the act.

Yes, Amnesty International had it all coming. Two weeks ago the human-rights group called Gitmo "the gulag of our time" and urged its closure. But that wasn't all. Amnesty leaders said U.S. officials who commit or allow torture should be rounded up and tried for their crimes, a la former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. It included a handout with the faces of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and other U.S. officials. "The apparent high-level architects of torture should think twice before planning their next vacation to places like Acapulco or the French Riviera, because they may find themselves under arrest," chirped William Schulz of Amnesty International USA.

If comparing Gitmo to a vast prison system that killed millions doesn't show Amnesty International has been taken over by Bush-bashing adolescents and forfeited a seat at the grown-ups' table, Schulz' smart-aleck remarks should. It has made itself a big, fat, easy target, and the Bush administration should keep up the counterattack for some time to come.

Why? Because what Amnesty International says is so outrageous. Because even the bitterest Bush-haters here at home can hardly bring themselves to defend its out-sized rhetoric. Because Amnesty's grotesque phrase will gain global currency if it's not killed in its crib. The sad fact is this outfit can still trade on its once-incontestable credibility, and it's hard to underestimate the prevalence of anti-American caricatures across the world.

The Portland area's Goli Ameri got a glimpse of this almost-Michael Moore view of America as a delegate to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights this spring in Geneva, Switzerland. Delegates could not believe she was a U.S. delegate. "Europeans and Middle Easterners are convinced that in the post 9/11 era, Americans of Middle Eastern heritage are all mistreated," she says. "It was difficult for them to reconcile their conception of the oppressive situation in the United States with the appointment of this woman of Iranian heritage by President Bush."

And these were well-traveled and highly educated members of the world's diplomatic corps. Ameri tells of the Pakistani deputy chief of mission who was U.S.-educated and had once traveled along the West Coast by herself. She no longer felt she could do that after 9/11.

How to combat such misinformation? How to combat the Amnesty International's verbiage and recent efforts to tie Gitmo to systematized Koran abuse? Certainly not by shutting Guantanamo down, as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has advocated. That would suggest we have something to apologize for there. No, the administration should simply and clearly -- and repeatedly -- publicize the facts of Guantanamo, the good, bad and ugly.

True, there has been abuse. In March, the Navy inspector general released a report finding three substantiated closed cases of "minor" abuse in 24,000 interrogations. True, the Koran has been mishandled at Gitmo. Last week the Pentagon acknowledged five substantiated cases -- out of 13 alleged instances of mishandling. And this came in the early days of the camp. Not bad when you consider that our military passed out 1,300 copies of the Koran in 13 languages to Gitmo detainees.

And flushing a Koran down a toilet? Investigators found "no credible evidence" to back up one detainee's claim. In fact, Pentagon officials say the man who made the allegation recanted in a recent interview.

Should anyone be surprised by the charges of abuse found in the FBI interview summaries released last week? No, but not because Gitmo is a torture-celled gulag or the charges necessarily have merit. We shouldn't be surprised because terrorists are trained to make such charges. Consider -- and publicize again and again -- one tidbit in Lesson 18 ("Prisons and Detention Centers" of the al-Qaida training manual: "At the beginning of the trial, once more the brothers must insist on proving that torture was inflicted on them . . . Complain . . . of mistreatment while in prison."

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