Pavel Litvinov gets a phone call . . .
When I was living in Germany, I joined Amnesty International and took part in their letter-writing campaigns on behalf of prisoners of conscience. I thought, and still think, that the organization does a lot of good in the world.
Recently, Amnesty's Secretary General, Irene Kahn, made the remark in a report on 2005 that the America's Guantánamo Bay detention camp has become "the gulag of our times."
The comparison has received a lot of criticism.
Even The Washington Post, which is on record as having criticized prisoner abuse at Guantánamo Bay, spoke out against Kahn's statement:
"[W]e draw the line at the use of the word 'gulag' or at the implication that the United States has somehow become the modern equivalent of Stalin's Soviet Union. Guantanamo Bay is an ad hoc creation, designed to contain captured enemy combatants in wartime. Abuses there . . . have been investigated and discussed by the FBI, the press and, to a still limited extent, the military. The Soviet gulag, by contrast, was a massive forced labor complex consisting of thousands of concentration camps and hundreds of exile villages through which more than 20 million people passed during Stalin's lifetime and whose existence was not acknowledged until after his death."
Amnesty International, however, has not backed down. Quite the opposite, the organization has attempted to persuade gulag survivors to support Kahn's remark. Pavel Litvinov tells of receiving a phone call:
"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.'"
Litvinov's response was exemplary: "Don't you think that there's an enormous difference?"
I can't say the same for his old friend's reply: "Sure, but after all, it attracts attention to the problem of Guantanamo detainees."
This reply is typical of the current Left's cynical idealism.
* * *
Incidentally, I should set something straight. Litvinov argues that:
"[B]y 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."
I agree with Litvinov's point, but he has almost certainly made a slip of the pen in his inclusion of South Korea. He surely meant North Korea.