How is Gitmo a 'gulag', and is this a boy cries wolf scenario

Amnesty International called Guantanamo The Gulag of our time. I agree that Gitmo is in violation of international law and practices ‘torture light’, and is something of an embarassment as a result for a country that claims to fight for human rights, but it is hardly the yardstick of human rights abuses in the 21st century.

There are only about 600 people at Gitmo (compared to some other slave labor camps with hundreds of thousands or millions of inhabitants). Inhabitants there have (as far as I know) access to competent medical care, adequate food, and are free to practice their religions. They are not worked to death and claims of abuse are investigated. The word ‘gulag’ to me reminds me of soviet gulags. In soviet Gulags people worked on railroads in Siberia 16 hours a day in -50F weather on starvation diets while guards beat, raped and tortured them for fun.

Is throwing around a word like ‘gulag’ or ‘gulag of our time’ going to minimize the more destructive human rights violations on earth? What about the slave labor camps in North Korea, Myanmar, China, Vietnam, Uzbekistan, etc. Isn’t calling the camp at Guantanamo which is a small camp with minor (when looking at global human rights violations) ‘the gulag of our time’ an insult to those in labor camps in Myanmar and North Korea? Won’t this create a ‘boy who cried wolf’ scenario where instead of focusing on gross torture allegations by despots people will focus on less serious (but still serious and worth noting and investigating) human rights abuses by western countries?

I suppose because the US is so much more open mediawise than those countries that our abuses are easier to research and look into. And I guess people care more about abuses by the US than they do by North Korea or Myanmar. And I suppose people expect better from the US than from Myanmar. However I don’t see how this label is even remotely productive, it just minimizes the real gulags on earth and takes away the seriousness of gulags and slave labor systems.

Wesley, I have no opinion on whether gulag was the right word choice. I do agree that there are people in other parts of the world who are subjected to worse torture.

I haven’t read the newest report although I am aware of it. This report is from the first of the year.

It is clear that people are being tortured and their human rights are being violated. That is being done by the United States on our own property. Those are our buildings and our women and men who are in charge.

The Supreme Court has said that we are violating their rights.

How can we expect the rest of the world to believe that we are really all about freedom and justice and human dignity?

I’m more concerned about the misuse of human beings than the misuse of words.

Amnesty International is a very reputable organization.


Expect the right-wing insta-pundits to rectify that after the Memorial Day weekend. :wink:

Long since gone. In the desert of right-wing punditry, the bleached bones of Amnesty International are peed upon by passing camels. No loss of credibility is possible.

From ‘Gulag, A History’, Anne Applebaum, Random House and Allen Lane:

'Over time, the word ‘Gulag’ has also come to signify not only the administration of the concentration camps but also the system of Soviet slave labour itself, in all its forms and varieties: labour camps, criminal and political camps, women’s camps children’s camps, transit camps. Even more broadly, ‘Gulag’ has come to mean the Soviet repressive system itself, the set of procedures that prisoners once called the ‘meat-grinder’, the arrests, the interrogations, the transportation in unheated cattle cars, the forced labour, the destruction of families, the years spent in exile, the early and unnecessary deaths.

(My added emphasis.)

Just about right I would say. What is Guantanamo if not a ‘criminal and political camp’, it has a ‘children’s camp’, The neo-cons have set up a repressive system of which this is a part, ‘random arrests’ seem to be the main way people came to be in the camp, 'interrogations are the main raison d’etre of the camp according to the neo-cons, OK no unheated cattle trucks, but shackled in your own excrement for eighteen hours on the floor of an aircraft is close enough for me, and the 'destruction of families, the years spent in exile and early and unneccesary deaths speak for themselves.

Close enough a comparison I think.

Its all a matter of perspective and perception, IMO. If your idea of a ‘gulag’ is simply a place where unjust imprisonment takes place, then I can certainly see how Gitmo could be considered a ‘gulag’. If your idea of a ‘gulag’ is a place where continuous and mass torture, starvation, forced and harsh labor, large numbers of deaths by execution or simply the harsh conditions (i.e. the historical and accurate depiction of what a ‘gulag’ really was)…well, then I think using the term ‘gulag’ is not really accurate. But then Amnesty International didn’t use the term to be accurate or because they define ‘gulag’ as simply a place of unjust imprisonment (nor do I believe that their ‘target market’ REALLY feels that way, despite the protests thus far and no doubt still to come in this thread).

How productive is it for Amnesty International? I’d say very productive for their target audience who will respond to the gut level reaction to such a term. Its sort of like making oblique references to Nazi Germany when talking about your political foe. You can say things like 'well, I’m not calling <insert foe of choice> a Nazi. Oh no. All I’m saying is that the Germans during WWII did X, and my foe does Y…which is very similar. But I’m not calling him/her a Nazi! :wink: ’ Those folks who are your target audience will respond at a gut level and get exactly the picture/message you want them to get. Well…using the term ‘gulag’ has much of the same emotional baggage attached to it (I’m sure just about everyone has SOME idea of what went on in the Russian gulags, and at a guess many folks with less than a full grasp of history probably associate the Nazi death camps in the same group), and will get the same kind of reaction at the gut level.


People have certain inalienable rights, including the right to not be imprisoned without fair trial and the right not to be tortured. Guantanamo is a complete violation of these rights and as such is inexcusable. Comparisons with other schemes of illegal imprisonment are irrelevant.

That said, I think that the situation at Guantanamo is similar, if not quantitatively identical, to the Gulag. The system of imprisonment without trial was the key feature of the Gulag, all the rest (numbers of people affected, location, prisoners laboring vs prisoners kept locked up etc) is merely a set of unpleasant details.

The “boy cries wolf” comparison doesn’t work. Think instead of how the Guantanamo scheme dramatically reduces the ability of the US (and the nations who have effectively acquiesced to the scheme, such as the UK and Australia) to tell other countries to comply with humanitarian / human rights laws without being rightly labelled hypocrites.

To the OP: A hypothetical.

If a close relative of yours was illegally held and tortured in Guantanamo, would you object in similar fashion to AI’s use of the noun? Or do you think you might be rather grateful to them for raising the public’s awareness to this shocking behavior on the part of your Government?

AI lost ALL credibility with me on that one. Unbelievable. Simply unbelievable. Although, as was already posted, perhaps their credibilty in many circles was nil before this. You say “Gulag” around these parts and there is no mistaking the meaning for anything but Stalin’s brutal crush of his own people. What does this asshat offer up as the similarities?

I assume AI receives donations. I will never forget this. When they solicit from me in the future I will remind them that one of their ‘chiefs’ referred to a U.S. dentention facility as our Gulag in 5/05, during a time of war, and without immediate and compelling retraction. The will get nothing from me and I will let them know why.

This belongs in the same bag of whiney propoganda as “bush is hitler” or “we deserved 9/11”. Unbelievable. Why do groups use this type of rhetoric? They do it to get attention, of course. Relatedly, I feel a lack of confidence in their own credibility has got something to do with it as well. Maybe on the heels of Newsweek’s recent fiasco, this particular AI representative thought he had to say something way over the top – that the AI name atop a statement or report would just not carry enough weight at the moment.

Unbelievable. I’m curious whether there was any retraction? Efforts at damage control? Or is isolating the source of their support to the far left their goal?

You sound as if you’re mad as hell, and not going to take it anymore.
We’ve been told over and over that Guantanamo isn’t a POW camp, and it sure as hell isn’t a summer camp. When they desecrate your holy books, grab your nutsack and smear you with, ostensibly fake, menstrual blood, a descriptive term like Gulag becomes operational.

Yes and no. On one hand i’d be glad if it brought pressure on the US government to reform. On the other hand i’d feel guilty that a respected international human rights organization was calling a prison camp with 600 inmates, adequate food & medicine, investigations of human rights abuses and religious freedom ‘the gulag of our time’ when people are forced to work 16 hours a day on starvation diets with unaccontable torture inflicted on them in North Korean and Myanmar camps at the same time.

This crap really pisses me off. Yes.

As ridiculous as it may be, try and put yourselves into the shoes of those that would do Americans wrong, simply for being infidels or non-believers. Some of your ilk fly jets into buildings, killing thousands. You are rounded up because the infidel’s intelligence effort uncovered your sleeper cell, perhaps through measures that would not withstand a liberal judge’s scrutiny. You are detained. You know the infidels are weak. Their value of freedom takes some of them in very silly directions and extremes. They fight among themselves, and appear divided. Your training gives you the abililty to withstand true torture. And what do they throw at you? Blood. They mishandle a book. They grab your buddies balls. Meanwhile, your HQ has just completed its umpteenth beheading. Oh the misguided OUTRAGE! And its source? The useful idiots themselves!

And you chuckly yourself to sleep each night.

In the unlikely event that a close relative of mine was part of a fanatical sect of terrorists that advocated murdering as many Americans and Jews and other “infidels” as possible, and actively worked twoard that goal, I’d turn him in myself.

Nice fantasy, however, isn’t it more likely that you’re rounded up because some dude in your village needed the $50 bounty paid for “terrorists” after the war?
We’ve seen the quality of evidence which America uses to make life or death decisions, and frankly, it sucks.

What if you’re innocent? One of the main complaints has been that these arrests can be arbitrary.
Somebody somewhere decided they were “enemy combatants” and suddenly they are subjected to indefinite detainment and mistreatment and IIRC most have not stood trial yet.

While this doesn’t pertain to Guantanamo directly, it should be known that two inmates were beaten to death in Afghanistan while chained in uncomfortable positions for days using what one of the guards described as acceptable blows.

Not one of the detainees has been shown to be a member of any terrorist organization.

Many of the detainees (including those categorized as ‘among the worst’) have been sent home to their own countries. Those sent to Britain were immediately released without any criminal action being taken against them.

Maybe when the US puts these people before fair tribunals and shows that they are terrorists in law rather than in propaganda, then maybe unbiassed people will believe that they are terorists. Until then, they are merely ‘detained on suspicion’ within a Kafkaesque setting and denied all human rights due to them.

And together with Abu Ghraib, Koran flushings, beatings, torture, ‘renditions’, smearing with menstrual blood, withdrawal of medical care and communications as punishment, etc., the standing of the USA in most European Countries (let alone Arab and Muslim Countries) is at an all time low.

Is that what you really want?

Sorry Squink, that should have been posted as a reply to Larry Borgia

To find the Gulag quote in context, see here. It’s the foreword to AI’s yearly report, covering human rights abuses all over the planet in 2004. In the foreword Khan starts with Darfur, continues with the lack of progress on social and economic rights worldwide, mentions violence against women, and then goes on to talk about US. The part preceeding the Gulag statement goes:

Seen in this context, the Gulag comment makes excellent sense, and is IMO completely justified. Guantanamo has become an instantly recognisable symbol of lawless detention, where innocents and guilty alike can be held indefinitively without any rights, and without contact with the outside world.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve got the distinct impression that these investigations are done by people who are in the chain of command under some of those who’s been accused of ordering the abuses. (I’m thinking of Rumsfeld & co here.) I’m not overwhelmed by trust in the impartiality of those investigations. Frankly, it’s taking all of my self control not to put quote marks around the last word in the previous sentence.

<fighting ignorance> Yes, AI receives donations (including mine). To protect its independence, it does not accept donations from governments or politicial parties. More info here. </fighting ignorance>

What has “time of war” got to do with anything? Do you feel AI should turn a blind eye to human rights abuses occuring during wars? Or only during wars which US is involved in? And if you’ll indulge my curiosity: Have you ever donated to AI, or have they, when loosing your good will, lost nothing?

It’s puzzling to read this on the SDMB. I don’t even know where to begin.

LONDON (AP) - Some boast they were Taliban fighters. Others - an invalid, a chicken farmer, a nomad, a nervous name-dropper - say they were in the wrong place at the wrong time when they were plucked from their homes and flown to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Their stories are tucked inside nearly 2,000 pages of documents the U.S. government released to the Associated Press under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
Representing a fraction of some 558 tribunals held since July, the testimonies capture frustration on both sides - judges wrestling with mistaken identity and scattered information from remote corners of the world, and prisoners complaining there’s no evidence against them.
“I’ve been here for three years and the past three years, whatever I say, nobody believes me. They listen but they don’t believe me,” says a chicken farmer accused of torturing jailed Afghans as a high-ranking member of the Taliban. ….
Many of the prisoners portray their circumstances as Kafka-esque, similar to the Czech author’s The Trial where a man is arrested and forced to defend himself against a secret crime.

“How could I be an enemy combatant if I was not able to stand up,” he says, describing how he hasn’t been able to walk in more than 15 years. A witness testifies that the man had a stroke years ago and barely left his house except to visit the doctor.
Many of the men testify they were against the Taliban - though some boasted about belonging to the militia that protected al-Qaida leader Bin Laden before the U.S. military attacked them.
One of the longest filings came from Feroz Abbasi, a British prisoner freed from Guantanamo this year. U.S. authorities accused Abbasi of training at a camp run by al-Qaida in Afghanistan and meeting bin Laden, but he was never charged.
Abbasi began his testimony by quoting Malcolm X, the slain black Muslim leader: “I did not come here to condemn America. I want to make that very clear. I came here to tell the truth and if the truth condemns America then she stands condemned.”
Later Abbasi was kicked out of the proceedings for engaging in a heated debate about international law with the tribunal president, who snaps, “I don’t care about international law. I don’t want to hear the words international law again.”
On the Net:
Documents from court proceedings for many of the detainees: