Amnesty International's latest report didn't denounce conditions for U.S. troops captured and held in detention facilities in Iraq. That's because, as far as anyone knows, there are no camps for American prisoners of war in Iraq.
According to Pentagon sources, there is only one U.S. soldier listed as missing-captured in Iraq. Sgt. Keith Maupin, 21, has been missing since April 2004.
Terrorists in Iraq don't take prisoners. They fight to kill. Larry Greer, spokesman for the Pentagon's POW/MIA office, noted that while there is no way of knowing how the terrorists would treat U.S. detainees, it is clear how they treat hostages: "Their treatment appears to be torture followed by execution."
So Amnesty International cannot refer to a POW camp run by Iraqi and foreign insurgents fighting the U.S.-led coalition as it does to the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay -- as a "gulag of our times, entrenching the notion that people can be detained without any recourse to the law." The dead don't talk.
I do not believe that Amnesty International is indifferent to the carnage committed by what it calls "armed groups opposed to the presence of U.S.-led forces in Iraq." The group's 2005 report does cite "gross human-rights abuses which caused thousands of civilian casualties." It also reports that insurgents have engaged in kidnapping for ransom and, "Some kidnap victims, including children, were killed."
I do believe, however, that Amnesty is too easy on terrorists in Iraq, and too hard on the U.S. effort.
Note how Amnesty's language -- "armed groups opposed to the presence of U.S.-led forces in Iraq" -- cleanses the aim of the terrorists. Men who blow up mosques, kill children and butcher Iraqi police and military trainees are fighting more than coalition troops. They are fighting to keep Iraq from being free.
The Washington Post editorial page, among others, scolded Amnesty for comparing Guantanamo Bay to the Soviet "gulag." There is, after all, a big difference between thousands of concentration camps housing more than 20 million people over decades and a detention camp that houses some 500 captured enemy combatants. A more apt comparison would be Stalin's gulag to the prisons of Saddam Hussein.
I don't like bashing Amnesty International, which for years has done important work that shined the light on ruthless, bloody tyrants. But the group's leaders have wandered off the path if they think that President Bush is the planet's big bad guy. This is a man who has sent troops to risk their lives protecting U.S. interests, but also to free Afghans and Iraqis from tyrants. And Amnesty doesn't care.
No, the folks at Amnesty International are too pumped up with the conceit -- shared by some of my brethren in the media -- that without Amnesty International, U.S. troops would be torturing every prisoner in sight.
Indeed, Amnesty reported that "torture and ill-treatment by U.S.-led forces were widely reported." The word torture is being overused, and the fact that charges are "widely reported" does not make them all true.
Be it noted that the Pentagon already had investigated abuses and charged bad actors at the Abu Ghraib prison before the story broke. Ditto with soldiers involved in the wrongful death of two Afghan prisoners, a story featured in The New York Times last month.
Of course, the Pentagon acted quickly. Mistreatment of enemy combatants invites mistreatment of U.S. troops when captured -- if not in Iraq today, then somewhere else in the future. Some of the victims were completely innocent -- which makes their suffering doubly wrong. As Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. -- who as a former prisoner of war in Vietnam would know -- recently told CNN's Wolf Blitzer, "Torture doesn't work."
When a practice is morally wrong, dangerous to U.S. troops and ineffective, the Pentagon doesn't need to be told to eradicate it.
But there are other issues at stake -- like the war.
Amnesty called on the Pentagon to close Gitmo and either charge or release all the prisoners there. Bad idea, countered Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld: Twelve of the 200 detainees who had been released from Gitmo "have already been caught back on the battlefield, involved in efforts to kidnap and kill Americans." He has an obligation to his troops to not release back to Afghanistan or Iraq someone who will try to kill them.
Then there's Amnesty's insistence on pinning all mistreatment on the top brass, despite the fact, as noted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard B. Myers at a press conference last week, that abuses took place "on one shift in Abu Ghraib -- not the shift before, not the shift after, but one shift."
Another beef: The word torture is being overused. Amnesty now combines "torture and ill treatment," and lists as examples "beatings with hard objects" -- fair enough, that's torture. But it also adds "ill treatment during arrest, internment and interrogation" and "acts of humiliation with detainees being paraded naked."
That is poor treatment, to be sure. But it is not torture. It doesn't matter if these prisoners were trying to kill them and their buddies two weeks ago. It doesn't matter if Muslim terrorists are blowing up mosques. Still, American G.I.s have to show more respect for Islam than many Muslim fighters display.
It's odd how the left bemoans "the desecration of the Koran." An investigation found that five U.S. personnel may have mishandled the holy book. There has been no substantiation of charges that any American flushed the Koran down a toilet. Still, Bush-haters are outraged.
It wasn't too long ago that conservative Christians were enraged that the federal government funded an exhibition with a crucifix in urine. That was a matter of free speech, and woe to the taxpayer who dared to complain. So why complain if a U.S. soldier might have treated the Koran as poorly as a U.S.-funded artist treated the crucifix?
On Memorial Day, A&E aired "Faith of My Fathers," a television drama based on Sen. McCain's book about his 5-and-a-half-year stint as a POW at the Hanoi Hilton, the infamous prison in North Vietnam. The North Vietnamese beat McCain, they left him hanging by the arms, and in one scene, McCain's captors dunked his head into a trough filled with urine and excrement.
But at least they didn't throw the Bible in the trough. That would have been real torture.
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