Open Letter to Amnesty International


posted to on July 31, 2003


Dear Amnesty International,


I strongly urge you to step back from your newly announced campaign to release the 75 US agents in Cuba. Associated Press reported on July 30 that your researcher Paige Wilhite has stated that "They are prisoners of conscience and the Cuban government has to release them immediately and without conditions." To the contrary, they have broken Cuban laws prohibiting funding from foreign governments, a law found in any sovereign state, including democracies like the USA and Great Britain.


To people of conscience on the left, this well-orchestrated campaign to isolate and punish Cuba economically is rather transparent. You have joined groups such as Reporters Without Borders, whose animosity to communism or state-owned media in 3rd world countries is driven more by bottom line considerations than freedom of expression it would seem. (42% of the budget of "Reporter Without Borders" is covered by the Commission of the European Union, a body which is fanatically pro-privatization.)


While Amnesty International has a rather preening posture about being "above politics", it has shown a rather dismaying tendency in the past to adapt to the foreign policy needs of the USA and Great Britain, where it seems to enjoy the greatest support both socially and economically.


For example, when the Iraqi army was accused of ripping babies from hospital incubators in December 1990, Amnesty International told the Washington Post that "We heard rumors of these deaths as early as August but only recently has there been substantial information on the extent of the killings." Not only were you spreading disinformation hatched by the infamous Hill & Knowlton public relations firm, you were helping to launch the war against Iraq whose opening salvos relied on this lurid fabrication.


Next you got involved in the Balkans--once again on behalf of US foreign policy. When you sponsored a 25 city tour in the USA for Jadranka Cigelj, Judith Miller (!) of the NY Times wrote glowingly about your efforts to raise awareness about how the Serbs were using rape as a political weapon--even quoting the wretched David Rieff, who has emerged as a frontline spokesman for humanitarian imperialist interventions.


Unfortunately neither Judith Miller nor your public relations department spelled out the exact character of Cigelj's activism around the rape issue, nor her sordid political past. In "Fool's Crusade", Diana Johnstone points out that "Cigelj was a vice president of Croatian president Franjo Tudjman's ruling nationalist party, the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) and was in charge of the Zagreb office of the Croatia Information Center (CIC), a wartime propaganda agency funded by the same cryptofascist Croatian émigré groups that backed Tudjman. The primary source for reports of rape in Bosnia was Cigelj's CIC and associated women's groups, which sent 'piles of testimony to Western women and to the press'".


She adds:


"The CIC benefited from a close connection with the 'International Gesellschaft fur Menschenrechte' (International Association for Human Rights, IGfM), a far right propaganda institute set up in 1981 as a continuation of the Association of Russian Solidarists, an expatriate group which worked for the Nazis and the Croatian fascist Ustashe regime during World War II. In the 1980s, this organization led a propaganda campaign against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, accusing them of running camps where opponents were tortured, raped, and murdered on a massive scale."


Finally, an article by Paul De Rooij in the October 31, 2002 online edition of Counterpunch titled "Amnesty International & Israel: Say it isn't so!" ( you to task for trivializing Israeli violence and apolitical fence-sitting.


He writes:


"Reading AI's reports doesn't reveal why there is a conflict in the area in the first place. The portrayal of violence is stripped of its context, and historical references are minimal. The fact that Palestinians have endured occupation, expulsion, and dispossession for many decades, the explanation of why the conflict persists, is nowhere highlighted in its reports. This posture eliminates the possibility of taking sides, and AI doesn't automatically side with the oppressed victims; instead, it assumes a warped sense of balance. It qualitatively equates the violence perpetrated by the IOF with Palestinian resistance. In attempting to be impartial, AI is oblivious to the history of ethnic cleansing that is the root cause. Israeli violence is qualitatively different than Palestinian violence; it is different than that found in other conflicts because it aims to expel the native population."


Not that I would gainsay De Rooij's compelling argument, but I would quibble with one characterization. Instead of describing AI as "fence-sitting", I would regard you--at least in these instances--as having fallen off the fence and into the lap of the US and British foreign policy establishment.