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Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Gulags – they just ain’t what they used to be…

So as we all now know, a few weeks ago, Amnesty International accused the Bush administration of being a "leading purveyor and practitioner" of human rights violations and referred to Guantanamo Bay as a “gulag of our times.” A gulag. Now I suppose it’s possible that the folks at Amnesty International are just ignorant and don’t really know what a gulag is (or was), but I’m not sure I’m ready to give them that benefit of the doubt.

The gulags in the former Soviet Union were a widespread system of concentration-camp-style oppression, forced labor, torture and death. You ended up in the gulags for speaking against the state – or in support of freedom – or simply being suspected of either. Over twenty-five million (think about that number) people entered the gulags, were forced into outright slavery, and most, nearly twenty million, never made it out. They were massive, the size of large college campuses or small towns. The gulags were repositories of humiliation, torture and death on a genocidal scale – really surpassed only by the holocaust in terms of magnitude of evil.

To refer to the Guantanamo Bay facility as a gulag, not only accuses the US Government, and the soldiers and agents that run the facility, of unspeakable acts of sheer evil – but it at the same time trivializes the inhuman suffering of over twenty-five million victims of Stalin’s genocidal oppression.

Beyond the fact that most of these accusations are likely bogus, as we already know that the AL Qaeda Handbook instructs recruits to "Claim the Americans are torturing you" if captured, the bottom line is that even if everyone of these accusations were true it barely rises to the level of “questionable” when one considers who these prisoners are and what their intentions are towards the American people. These are people who were captured on the battlefields in Afghanistan – they are Al Qaeda, they are Taliban, they are terrorists.

The upcoming Time Magazine article on these alleged abuses focuses on the treatment of Mohammed al-Qahtani - the twentieth hijacker. Outrages such as forcing him to pee in his pants, and listen to Christina Aguilera music, making him stand in uncomfortable positions, and hanging pictures of scantily clad women in his cell – these acts according to Chuck Hagel should offend the sensibilities of "any straight-thinking American, any straight-thinking citizen of the world." THIS IS THE 20TH F-ING HIJACKER!!!! HELLO? If Mohammed Atta had survived his attack on the World Trade Center, would these acts be too much to try and obtain information from him? Are these acts worthy of a “gulag” reference?

As we've said soooo often, where’s the perspective? These are people who have pledged death to all of us. They behead American citizens and they’re called “insurgents,” we fail to serve sorbet to cleanse the palate between courses – TO TERRORISTS – and we’re running a gulag.

Maybe the Amnesty International folks are just ignorant, or lazy, or both – maybe they just thought it would be catchy and thought provoking to refer to Gitmo as a gulag without really thinking about what they were saying – but I don’t think so. By invoking the term gulag, they attempted to convey the notion that what is happening to the prisoners there is somehow comparable to the Stalinist style repression that resulted in the torture and death of twenty million people. That’s not just ignorant or lazy - or wrong - it’s irresponsible, and history does not allow it.

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