A U.S. Gulag by Any Name

Thursday, June 2, 2005

The May 26 editorial " 'American Gulag' " risked letting a semantic argument overshadow extraordinary and unlawful U.S. policy and actions.

For more than three years, the United States has operated an isolated prison colony in Cuba in which people are confined arbitrarily, held incommunicado without charge, and denied trial or access to due process. The editorial overlooked U.S. operation of a worldwide network of prisons beyond Guantanamo Bay -- extending from Afghanistan to Diego Garcia, from Pakistan to Iraq to Jordan -- even to U.S. ships.

A March 13 editorial acknowledged "a clandestine network of overseas prisons." To the more than 70,000 prisoners -- none yet tried, many tortured or ill-treated, enduring years of detention and interrogation -- the prisons are far from "ad hoc." The United States should recommit to respecting the rule of law and human rights, actions that could begin to repair damaged U.S. credibility from what an April 26 editorial called "one of the most serious human rights scandals in U.S. history."

Far from overemphasizing U.S. actions, Amnesty International's annual report exposed human rights violations in 149 countries. As just one example the organization cited the tragedy in Darfur as representative of the "indifference, erosion and impunity that marks the human rights landscape." Amnesty International will continue to press all governments and armed groups to respect human rights and dignity.


Secretary General

Amnesty International



The May 26 editorial chastised Amnesty International for drawing parallels between the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and the Soviet gulags. It noted that the size and scale of the facilities do not compare, nor does the frequency of human rights abuse. Points taken. But as a former Foreign Service officer who monitored Soviet prison abuse from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and Vietnamese abuse of prisoners in its "gulag" from the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, I note that abuses that I reported on in those inhumane systems parallel abuses reported in Guantanamo, at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan and at the Abu Ghraib prison: prisoners suspended from the ceiling and beaten to death; widespread "waterboarding"; prisoners "disappeared" to preclude monitoring by the International Committee of the Red Cross -- and all with almost no senior-level accountability.

I am dismayed to find any such similarities with previous gulags.


Falls Church

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