Sunday, June 05, 2005

The curious case of the Gulag uproar

The accusation by Amnesty International that Bush and Company are running a system of Gulags in Guantanamo and Iraq and Afghanistan and, if we count extraordinary renditions, several other countries as well, has struck a nerve, as evidenced by the barrage of more or less indentical talking points issuing from quite a number of spokespersons for the regime as well as its media apparatchiks.

The argument seems to be twofold: (1) Amnesty is rabidly anti-American and cannot be trusted, and (2) Stalin.

The first argument is untrue. Amnesty is rabidly anti-tyranny and anti-torture and anti-injustice, and has gained the enmity of tyrannies of every stripe for collecting and publicizing evidence of brutality, torture, abuse, ethnic cleansing, and injustice of all kinds carried out by such regimes. I forget whether it was Rumsfeld or Cheney, but it was one of them--I suppose I should look it up, but, hey, this is a blog--who actually cited an Amnesty report condemning Saddam as part of the buildup to the war.

Ah, but that was a different Amnesty, one that had not yet gone over to the side of anti-Americanism.

The Stalin argument combines two logical flaws into one. The first is the error of saying that, because Jack the Ripper was a greater criminal than Charlie Manson, that Charlie Manson is blameless. The answer: it is true that Stalin was a greater criminal than Bush, but it does not follow that Bush is blameless.

The second logical error is technically called ignoratio elenchi, that is, disproving, or trying to disprove, a point not being made by the person you disagree with.

The Gulag was a system whereby people were disappeared with minimal legal pretext, or none at all, and sent to one or another of a series of concentration camps in places where there was no rule of law. This high-handedness and lack of a rule of law in our prison camps is, as far as I can tell, the point Amnesty is trying to make in talking about gulags.

Now it is true that many more people died in Stalin's gulags than have died in Bush's. The number of people beaten or tortured to death, or who have died in mysterious circumstances in our gulags is the last time I looked, less than 40. I don't think Amnesty would disagree that Stalin's death toll was greater. That gets us back to the first fallacy.

It seems clear enough to anyone not seriously diminished by watching Fox News, that the Gulag structure is alive and was working very well thank you until the American courts threw a relatively feeble monkey wrench into the works by demanding at least minimal legal accountability in Guantanamo, though none in the Gulag's other outposts. The legal accountability turns out to be perfunctory, unfortunately.

Neither the legal un-accountability, nor the brutality and torture that we all now know has occurred in our prison camps, have been addressed by apologists for the Bush regime--for the simple reason that to address it fairly and honestly, is to condemn it.

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