Amnesty International has been a handmaiden of the left for as long as I can remember. Founded in 1961 to support prisoners of conscience, it has managed since then to ignore the most brutal regimes and to aim its fire at the West and particularly at the United States. This week, Amnesty has come in for some (much overdue) criticism -- but not nearly so much as it deserves.
During the Cold War, AI joined leftist international groups like the World Council of Churches to denounce America's policy in Central America. Yet human rights in Cuba were described this way in a 1976 report: "the persistence of fear, real or imaginary, was primarily responsible for the early excesses in the treatment of political prisoners." Those priests, human rights advocates, and homosexuals in Castro's prisons were suffering from imaginary evils. And the "excesses" were early -- not a continuing feature of the regime.
In 2005, William Schulz, the head of AI's American division, described the U.S. as a "leading purveyor and practitioner" of torture and recommended that President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and other high-ranking American officials face trial in other countries for their crimes. "The apparent high-level architects of torture," he added, "should think twice before planning their next vacation to places like Acapulco or the French Riviera because they may find themselves under arrest as Augusto Pinochet famously did in London in 1998." Schulz's comments were echoed by AI's Secretary General, Irene Khan, who denounced Guantanamo Bay as "the gulag of our times."
When officials from Amnesty International demonstrated last month in front of Number 10 Downing Street demanding the closure of Guantanamo, Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo detainee who runs a group called Cageprisoners, joined them. Begg is a British citizen who, by his own admission, was trained in at least three al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan, was "armed and prepared to fight alongside the Taliban and al-Qaida against the United States and others," and served as a "communications link" between radical Muslims living in Great Britain and those abroad.