Feb 08 2010

Amnesty International and Strange Bedfellows

A whistleblower finally came forward (and was promptly sacked) for reporting on Amnesty International’s odd relationship with Cageprisoners, an organization that advocates on behalf of the “innocent victims” of the war on terror at Guantanamo — many of whom return to the battlefield to wage jihad as soon as they are released.

It may sound odd to use the word whistleblower to describe someone who merely comments on a public relationship. Though I think it fits in that here we have an insider who breaks with their organization’s formal talking points in comments to the Times of London story entitled “Amnesty International is ‘damaged’ by Taliban link” and is immediately punished for it.

H/T to Terry Glavin, Harry’s Place and Stroppyblog.

Amnesty International and Cageprisoners
Statement by Gita Sahgal

7 February 2010

This morning the Sunday Times published an article about Amnesty International’s association with groups that support the Taliban and promote Islamic Right ideas. In that article, I was quoted as raising concerns about Amnesty’s very high profile associations with Guantanamo-detainee Moazzam Begg. I felt that Amnesty International was risking its reputation by associating itself with Begg, who heads an organization, Cageprisoners, that actively promotes Islamic Right ideas and individuals.

Within a few hours of the article being published, Amnesty had suspended me from my job.

A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when a great organisation must ask: if it lies to itself, can it demand the truth of others? For in defending the torture standard, one of the strongest and most embedded in international human rights law, Amnesty International has sanitized the history and politics of the ex-Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg and completely failed to recognize the nature of his organisation Cageprisoners.

The tragedy here is that the necessary defence of the torture standard has been inexcusably allied to the political legitimization of individuals and organisations belonging to the Islamic Right.

I have always opposed the illegal detention and torture of Muslim men at Guantanamo Bay and during the so-called War on Terror. I have been horrified and appalled by the treatment of people like Moazzam Begg and I have personally told him so. I have vocally opposed attempts by governments to justify ‘torture lite’.

The issue is not about Moazzam Begg’s freedom of opinion, nor about his right to propound his views: he already exercises these rights fully as he should. The issue is a fundamental one about the importance of the human rights movement maintaining an objective distance from groups and ideas that are committed to systematic discrimination and fundamentally undermine the universality of human rights. I have raised this issue because of my firm belief in human rights for all.

I sent two memos to my management asking a series of questions about what considerations were given to the nature of the relationship with Moazzam Begg and his organisation, Cageprisoners. I have received no answer to my questions. There has been a history of warnings within Amnesty that it is inadvisable to partner with Begg. Amnesty has created the impression that Begg is not only a victim of human rights violations but a defender of human rights. Many of my highly respected colleagues, each well-regarded in their area of expertise has said so. Each has been set aside.

As a result of my speaking to the Sunday Times, Amnesty International has announced that it has launched an internal inquiry. This is the moment to press for public answers, and to demonstrate that there is already a public demand including from Amnesty International members, to restore the integrity of the organisation and remind it of its fundamental principles.

I have been a human rights campaigner for over three decades, defending the rights of women and ethnic minorities, defending religious freedom and the rights of victims of torture, and campaigning against illegal detention and state repression. I have raised the issue of the association of Amnesty International with groups such as Begg’s consistently within the organisation. I have now been suspended for trying to do my job and staying faithful to Amnesty’s mission to protect and defend human rights universally and impartially.

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7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Amnesty International and Strange Bedfellows”

  1. Darrenon 08 Feb 2010 at 10:33 am

    Amnesty International aside, I wanted to probe this concept of ‘returning to the battlefield’ a little. Isn’t that the expectation when prisoners of war are released during a conflict? As one random example, Wikipedia tells me that during World War II, “318,770 [Russian prisoners] were released by the Axis during the war and were then drafted into the Soviet armed forces again.”

    I mean, considering that, 20% seems like a happily low rate of recidivism. And I don’t really think it’s fair to say that “many” return to the battlefield. Particularly when, according to the linked article, the Whitehouse is only certain about the recidivism of 9.6% of detainees.

  2. jnarveyon 08 Feb 2010 at 12:02 pm

    Hey Darren. I’ll say that 20 per cent seems like a happily low rate of recidivism for crimes like money laundering, property theft and drunk driving.

    But it’s an intolerably high rate for people whose concept of battlefield targets includes female teachers and students, UN aid workers, commercial airplane passengers and any Jew, Christian or Hindu they can get to with a pair of pliers.

    I would also take issue with the definition of the Gauntanamo detainees as “Prisoners of War” — given that they in no way meet the standard of the Geneva Convention. They don’t wear uniforms or even belong to the armed forces of any particular nation. They are unlawful combatants.

    In conflicts akin to the Second World War, most of the sort of people picked up in Afghanistan and elsewhere would have been executed on-site as “spies”. I suspect the only reason this did not take place is that enough officers have figured out it is hard to extract actionable intelligence from a corpse.

  3. Kurskon 08 Feb 2010 at 12:13 pm

    Darren, let’s say that the figure you quote is accurate (which I question). A nearly 10% recidivism rate (amongst the thousands incarcerated) adds up to letting a few hundred really nasty people out to rape, maim and murder in the name of Islam.

    1% is too many.

    No thank you..shoot on site .

  4. real conservativeon 08 Feb 2010 at 12:22 pm

    It’s funny that we can kill or maim but not torture?? But since society decides that torture is the elephant in the room then nobody should be torturing anybody.

  5. Darrenon 08 Feb 2010 at 12:24 pm

    @Jonathon Fair enough, I’m not sure they’re ‘prisoners of war’ either. But you suggest that conclusion if you refer to them as ‘returning to the battlefield’.

    @Kursk I took the figure from the article Jonathon cited, so do with that what you will.

    Incidentally, we’re not talking about “a few hundred” enemy combatants. This exhaustively referenced Wikipedia article (http://bit.ly/aeyD5y) suggests that the number might be around 50 or so. This second Wikipedia article (http://bit.ly/aeyD5y) indicates that “Since October 7, 2001, when the current war in Afghanistan began, 775 detainees have been brought to Guantánamo”. So that also suggests that the number released would be under 80.

    More than 400 of those prisoners were released without being charged. Would you have had them all shot on sight, despite a lack of charge?

  6. jnarveyon 08 Feb 2010 at 12:51 pm

    Hey Darren. I don’t argue that plenty of these people picked up in Taliban territory weren’t charged. Frankly, I’m surprised a lot of them actually were.

    The problem here is that our soldiers who pick these guys up are being asked to act not just as soldiers, but as professionally trained detectives to the standard of the RCMP. Military courts are criticized for not requiring the same burden of proof or giving those captured the same legal protections they would have in civilian court.

    I expect that this criticism has politicized military justice in an unprecedented manner. Presidential speeches and international calls to shut down Guantanamo have certainly forced those running these institutions to look at ways of reducing the number of prisoners. Hence, they’re letting some people go (likely including those who were never charged for lack of forensic evidence, five witnesses and a love letter in their pocket from their local Taliban commander) who probably ought to be chilling out in a prison cell.

    Regarding your last question, I assume you mean, what would I do if I were an ISAF infantryman or military policeman in charge of handling those captured during operations? As a soldier, I would conduct myself according to ISAF rules of engagement, which treats drooling brigands with pretty much the same rights a Canadian citizen might get if picked up by the cops for some infraction at the corner of Granville and Broadway. As a civilian… well, I wouldn’t really be in charge of handling detainees.

  7. jnarveyon 08 Feb 2010 at 12:58 pm

    @real conservative, if you can’t figure out on your own why we shouldn’t torture people even if our soldiers are authorized to shoot our enemies, no explanation anyone gives you is going to convince you.

    It’s the difference between shooting a mad dog or electrocuting the animal for two weeks. You’ll have the same result in the end, but the first scenario is obviously the lesser evil.

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