This guy should know...
...the difference between Gitmo and the gulag. But then again, so should Amnesty International, given its history. This piece, written by former Soviet dissident and political prisoner Pavel Litvinov, recounts a recent phone conversation he'd had with an AI staffer regarding the whole "gulag" comparison.
Several days ago I received a telephone call from an old friend who is a longtime Amnesty International staffer. He asked me whether I, as a former Soviet "prisoner of conscience" adopted by Amnesty, would support the statement by Amnesty's executive director, Irene Khan, that the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba is the "gulag of our time."
"Don't you think that there's an enormous difference?" I asked him.
"Sure," he said, "but after all, it attracts attention to the problem of Guantanamo detainees."
Here at least is some hope that AI recognizes the statement as willful hyperbole. Litinov continues...
There is ample reason for Amnesty to be critical of certain U.S. actions. But by using hyperbole and muddling the difference between repressive regimes and the imperfections of democracy, Amnesty's spokesmen put its authority at risk. U.S. human rights violations seem almost trifling in comparison with those committed by Cuba, South Korea, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia.
Words are important. When Amnesty spokesmen use the word "gulag" to describe U.S. human rights violations, they allow the Bush administration to dismiss justified criticism and undermine Amnesty's credibility. Amnesty International is too valuable to let it be hijacked by politically biased leaders.
He's right. Here's a man who understands better than anyone the important function that Amnesty International can continue to serve, so long as its effectiveness isn't allowed to erode in a tide of partisan, left-wing politics.