An Administration's Amnesty Amnesia

By Dana Milbank
Sunday, June 5, 2005

The folks at Amnesty International are practically begging for a one-way ticket to Gitmo. After the human rights group issued a report late last month calling the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, "the gulag of our times," top officials raced to condemn Amnesty.

President Bush: "It's absurd. It's an absurd allegation."

Vice President Cheney: "I don't take them seriously. . . . Frankly, I was offended by it."

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld: "Reprehensible . . . cannot be excused."

Funny -- these officials had a different view of Amnesty when it was criticizing other countries.

Rumsfeld repeatedly cited Amnesty when he was making the case against Saddam Hussein, urging "a careful reading of Amnesty International" and saying that according to "Amnesty International's description of what they know has gone on, it's not a happy picture."

The White House often cited Amnesty to make the case for war in Iraq, using the group's allegations that Iraq executed dozens of women accused of prostitution, decapitated victims and displayed their heads, tortured political opponents and raped detainees' relatives, gouged out eyes, and used electric shocks.

Regarding Fidel Castro's Cuba, meanwhile, the White House joined Amnesty and other groups in condemning Castro's "callous disregard for due process."

And the State Department's most recent annual report on worldwide human rights abuses cites Amnesty's findings dozens of times.

"This administration eagerly cites Amnesty International research when we criticize Cuba and extensively quoted our criticism of the violations in Iraq under Saddam Hussein in the run-up to the war," protested William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA.

But Schulz isn't protesting too much. In the past week, traffic on Amnesty's Web site has gone up sixfold, donations have quintupled and new memberships have doubled.

Addicted to Government?

It's becoming a habit. On June 13, the Heritage Foundation, along with columnist George Will and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), will roll out a new "Index of Dependency" that measures how much Americans rely on their government. The conservative group's conclusion: We're hooked.

Dependency on programs such as health, welfare, retirement, education and agriculture subsidies has more than doubled since 1980, and with the exception of the early 1980s and late 1990s, the weighted index, modeled after the consumer price index, shows a "steady and perhaps alarming" rise over four decades -- and that includes under the Bush administration.

Yes, but His Is Art

When the nonprofit Broward Art Guild in Florida called its annual exhibit "Controversy," it didn't know the half of it. According to the Sun-Sentinel newspaper, Broward County's director of cultural affairs called the guild's director at home to register her disapproval of a painting called "Yahoo!" that showed President Bush being sodomized alongside images of a man in Muslim headdress and an oil barrel.

The guild is a private group but gets nearly a quarter of its funding from the county, and the pressure from the county official did the job: The painting was relocated to a corner and marked with a warning about its content. The newspaper reported that the county's complaint was provoked by a protest from another artist in the exhibit, Michael Friedman, who found the painting offensive; Friedman's artwork showed Pope Benedict XVI on a background of swastikas.

Not Running but Making Great Time

Former 2000 presidential candidate and attorney general John D. Ashcroft is so sure that he's not going to run for president in 2008 that he's going to prove it -- by attending three fundraisers in Iowa, the first state to cast votes in the primary season. Ashcroft, darling of religious conservatives, will appear at a pair of events in the Des Moines area on June 15 and then one in Davenport on June 16.

Sounds like a pretty obvious warm-up for another presidential run, but Ashcroft, outpolled in his 2000 Missouri Senate race by a dead man, says it's just the opposite. He told the Des Moines Register that he hopes the trip "sends a signal that we understand how important Iowa is to shaping the next presidency" while also letting him "make it clear I'm not running."

It's News to Them

With Congress in recess, it was a slow news week on Capitol Hill. On Thursday, House Republican Conference Secretary John T. Doolittle (Calif.) issued a news release titled "It's a Girl! Granddaddy Doolittle Welcomes His First Grandchild."

In other news, the Free Enterprise Fund called an event for last Thursday to protest the NBC "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" episode in which a character said after the killing of an appellate judge: "Maybe we should put out an APB for somebody in a Tom DeLay T-shirt." The group said it was distributing T-shirts with the House majority leader's picture and, on the back, "Who's Afraid of Dick Wolf," the show's producer.

Meantime, a Web site called has popped up, urging people to send tissues to Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), who choked up on the Senate floor while opposing John R. Bolton's nomination to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.


Q: "You've called Bush a loser."

A: "And a liar."

Q: "You apologized for the loser comment."

A: "But never for the liar, have I?"

-- from a Rolling Stone interview with Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).

© 2005 The Washington Post Company