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Amnesty USA backs off Gitmo as 'gulag'

Chicago Sun-Times | June 6, 2005

Amnesty International, which set off a storm by calling the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay "the gulag of our times," backed away from the label Sunday.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had ripped as "reprehensible" the description, made last month when the human rights group's secretary general, Irene Khan, issued its annual report.

Amnesty International was comparing American jails for prisoners in the war on terror with the "gulag" operated by the former Soviet Union. The Soviets maintained an extensive system of prison camps, many in remote Siberia.

On "Fox News Sunday," host Chris Wallace asked William Schulz, director of Amnesty International USA, if he stood by the description of the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, military prison.

Schulz responded by saying, "Clearly, this is not an exact or a literal analogy, and the secretary general has acknowledged that."

"In size and in duration, there are not similarities between U.S. detention facilities and the gulag," Schulz said. "People are not being starved in those facilities. They're not being subjected to forced labor."

Schulz maintained that some similarities did exist, saying the United States keeps a network of prisons worldwide, "many of them secret prisons into which people are being literally disappeared." In some cases, he said, prisoners are being tortured and killed.

The remarks came as a leading Senate Democrat said the United States needs to move toward shutting down the Guantanamo Bay prison.

''This has become the greatest propaganda tool that exists for recruiting of terrorists around the world. And it is unnecessary to be in that position,'' said Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.).

Biden: Shut it down

A Pentagon report released Friday detailed incidents in which U.S. guards at Guantanamo desecrated the Quran. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, GOP Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, plans hearings this month on the treatment of foreign terrorism suspects at the prison.

Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, proposed that an independent commission look at Guantanamo and make recommendations.

''But the end result is, I think we should end up shutting it down, moving those prisoners,'' he said.

''Those that we have reason to keep, keep. And those we don't, let go.''

He added, ''I think more Americans are in jeopardy as a consequence of the perception that exists worldwide with its existence than if there were no Gitmo.''

About 540 detainees are at Guantanamo Bay. Some have been there more than three years without being charged with a crime. Most were captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002 and were sent to Guantanamo in hope of extracting intelligence about al-Qaida.

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