The speech by Amnesty general secretary Irene Khan describing Guantánamo as the “gulag of our times” (see here) reduced the US right to apoplexy. From Donald Rumsfeld down, they united to deny there was any parallel between incarcerating millions of Soviet citizens and locking up a mere 600 Muslims. See here, here, here, here, here and so ad infinitum.
Now here’s a test for you. Which journalist on a liberal Sunday newspaper could be relied upon to echo the anti-Amnesty propaganda of the US neocons?
Yup, you got it in one – Nick Cohen, writing in today’s Observer:
“By all means, Amnesty and everyone else should loudly deplore America’s failure to treat prisoners of war in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. But when they’ve finished, they should check the figures. If they exclude the millions who died of starvation, disease and exhaustion, they will find that 776,098 prisoners were murdered in summary executions in the gulag between 1930 and 1953. At Guantanamo Bay, no one has died of starvation, disease or exhaustion and no prisoners have been executed. Not one.”
It seems to have escaped Cohen’s attention that, while some detainees were captured on the battlefield, many others were simply seized on the streets of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Gambia or wherever – often on the basis of the most minimal evidence that they were involved with any terrorist activity – and then hauled off to Guantánamo for interrogation.
This has nothing to do with “prisoners of war”. It’s about arresting and holding those seen as a potential threat to the US state without concern for proof of guilt or the possibility of a fair trial. As Irene Khan stated, Guantánamo bears comparison to the gulag in that it has been responsible for “entrenching the notion that people can be detained without any recourse to the law”.
Nick Cohen could put his journalistic skills to better use by drawing attention to the hypocrisy of a US state that happily seizes and imprisons Muslims on the grounds that they may be terrorists, without any worry as to whether they may in fact be innocent, but refuses to hand over an individual wanted by the Venezuelan government on charges of terrorism … on the grounds that the evidence is insufficient and he might not get a fair trial.