Thursday, May 26, 2005
"The detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has become the gulag of our times, entrenching the practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law."Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan
One can agree or disagree with the American government's policies regarding detention of people suspected of being members of terrorist organizations, but to compare US detention facilities to Soviet gulags does very little for the debate - and even less for the countless victims of real gulags. I guess it's a rhetorical progress of sorts when American military prisons are being compared to Soviet labor camps as opposed to Nazi concentration camps, but it doesn't make it any more historically accurate.
Let's recall that gulags were a nation-wide system of hundreds of camps, where over the life of the institution (but mainly in three decades between 1930 and 1960) tens of millions of Soviet citizens and foreign nationals have been kept in appalling conditions and forced to work. Several million inmates of the Gulag Archipelago died from hunger, sickness, exposure, neglect, being worked to death, or by execution. There's a number of good books about the Soviet prison system, and you can't go wrong with Anne Applebaum's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Gulag: A History". If you're feeling particularly generous, why don't you send a copy to Irene Khan so she can save herself embarrassment in the future.
If Guantanamo has indeed become the gulag of our times, then we're living in pretty fortunate times indeed compared to our parents and grandparents.
And, predictably, Amnesty spent more space on the United States, than it did on, say, North Korea, which unlike the United States, does maintain a real gulag system (5.5 versus 2.5 pages of summary).