Rumsfeld Decries Amnesty Rights Report
Wednesday, June 1, 2005; 2:53 PM
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld today described as "reprehensible" and "outlandish" a human rights group's comparison of U.S. military detention facilities to a Soviet-style gulag, and he said the military goes to great lengths to accommodate the religious practices of detainees.
In a Pentagon press conference, Rumsfeld also warned unspecified foreign countries against providing any treatment or safe haven to Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian terrorist who heads an al Qaeda-affiliated insurgent group in Iraq and who reportedly was wounded in a recent clash with U.S. troops.
On a domestic matter dominating the news, Rumsfeld refused to respond directly to a question on whether he views former high-ranking FBI official W. Mark Felt as a hero or a criminal for his early 1970s role as the Watergate-era source known as "Deep Throat." Felt was publicly identified yesterday as the anonymous source who provided crucial guidance to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward and helped unravel the Watergate scandal.
In an opening statement, Rumsfeld said that "no force in the world has done more to liberate people that they have never met than the men and women of the United States military. Indeed, that's why the recent allegation that the U.S. military is running a gulag at Guantanamo Bay is so reprehensible."
The defense secretary referred to a report issued last week by Amnesty International that criticized the detention of hundreds of terrorist suspects without charge or trial at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in U.S.-controlled jails in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In a speech accompanying the release of the report, Amnesty International's secretary general, Irene Khan, said, "Guantanamo has become the gulag of our times, entrenching the notion that people can be detained without any recourse to the law." She called on the United States to close the detention facility and either release or charge its prisoners.
President Bush personally denounced the criticism yesterday, calling it "absurd."
Rumsfeld said today that "gulag" refers to the forced-labor concentration camps in which the former Soviet Union imprisoned millions of people, and that the term could also be applied to the system whereby former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein "mutilated and murdered untold numbers because they held views unacceptable to his regime."
"To compare the United States and Guantanamo Bay to such atrocities cannot be excused," Rumsfeld said. While the U.S. government welcomes "informed criticism" on human rights issues, "those who make such outlandish charges lose any claim to objectivity or seriousness," he said.
William F. Schulz, the executive director of Amnesty International USA, retorted today that Rumsfeld and the Bush administration "ignored or dismissed Amnesty International's reports on the abuse of detainees for years, and senior officials continue to ignore the very real plight of men detained without charge or trial." In a statement, Schulz said that 20 years ago, "Amnesty International was criticizing Saddam Hussein's human rights abuses at the same time Donald Rumsfeld was courting him."
The Bush administration's "deliberate policy" is to detain people without charge or trial at Guantanamo, Bagram air base in Afghanistan and other locations, Schulz said. He added, "Donald Rumsfeld personally approved a December 2002 memorandum that permitted such unlawful interrogation techniques as stress positions, prolonged isolation, stripping and the use of dogs at Guantanamo Bay, and he should be held accountable, as should all those responsible for torture, no matter how senior."
Rumsfeld suggested that the reported mistreatment of U.S.-held detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq pales in comparison to "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 acknowledged that detainees have been mistreated, "sometimes grievously," in U.S. custody, but he said they were only a tiny fraction of the 68,000 people detained by U.S. forces since Sept. 11, 2001. He cited "approximately 370 criminal investigations" into mistreatment charges, and he said the service members found to have abused detainees amounted to fewer than one-tenth of 1 percent of the 525,000 men and women who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo.