Bush Administration Flip-flops on Amnesty International and Shoots the Messenger

On May 25, Amnesty International released its annual report on the state of human rights around the world, country by country. The U.S. didn’t score very high because of the Bush administration’s failure to fully investigate the facts surrounding the torture of detainees in the “war on terror” and its failure to prosecute anyone at the higher levels in the chain of command. The Bush administration continues to blame the prisoner abuse problems on “a few bad apples”, as if Lynndie England could have thought the whole thing up on her own.

The official responses to Amnesty’s report were interesting.

On May 31, in a Rose Garden news conference, George W. Bush described Amnesty’s report as “absurd”.

This mirrored an earlier statement by Vice President Dick Cheney, who had said, “For Amnesty International to suggest that somehow the United States is a violator of human rights, I frankly just don’t take them seriously.”

Then, on June 1, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that “those who make such outlandish charges lose any claim to objectivity or seriousness.”

What an interesting change of heart! In the past, the Bush administration has cited Amnesty International’s reports numerous times to back up its own claims of human rights abuses by other governments. Rumsfeld himself repeatedly cited Amnesty International’s reports on human rights abuses by Saddam Hussein’s regime to justify the war in Iraq. For example, in March of 2003, Rumsfeld said that “it seems to me a careful reading of Amnesty International or the record of Saddam Hussein, having used chemical weapons on his own people as well as his neighbors, and the viciousness of that regime, which is well known and documented by human rights organizations, ought not to be surprised.” Rumsfeld cited Amnesty again on April 1, 2003, when he noted that “if you read the various human rights groups and Amnesty International’s description of what they know has gone on, it’s not a happy picture.”

It appears that the Bush administration takes Amnesty International seriously when doing so might suit its own agenda, but not when members of the administration might be held accountable for their own questionable actions. This kind of defensiveness, and this “shoot the messenger” response to Amnesty’s allegations, speaks volumes.

George W. Bush continues his practice of stubbornly and arrogantly refusing to admit to any possibility of ever having made a mistake. And, rather than submit to any kind of impartial investigation that might expose the true facts, his administration instead lashes out in a hostile attempt to discredit its critics.

It’s time for the Bush administration to put up or shut up. At a June 1 news conference, Rumsfeld stated that “[T]here’s so much transparency in Gitmo and so much oversight.” But if there truly is transparency regarding the conditions at Guantanamo and other detention facilities, then why does the Bush administration refuse to allow Amnesty International and other independent organizations to inspect those facilities and see for themselves?

If the Bush administration is truthful in its claims of exemplary detention conditions, then what have they got to lose by allowing such inspections?

As Amnesty International’s Secretary General Irene Kahn observed, “Transparency is the best antidote to misinformation and incorrect facts.” So, Mr. Bush, bring it on!

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