.

For those whose vision is not obscured by their own committed advocacy, the map of how Amnesty International lost its way over the past decade and more is there to be read. From irreproachable defender of human rights to clearly ideological activist on behalf of one vision of political development, an organization now easily impeached, the loss to human rights advocacy is profound. Once it was obvious that nearly only tyrants challenged an Amnesty International report. When a free nation did, it was an embarrassment for that democracy in the eyes of nearly all, its rationalized misbehavior an otherwise indisputable black mark drawn by an organization with an unassailable reputation. Now, those always unsympathetic to Amnesty’s work can point to its own clear biases in dismissing the NGO’s judgments. How much easier, for instance, to seek an accounting of a United States torture and war prisoner abuse regime in the immediate post 9/1 years were AI not chargeable as anti-American in its advocacy.

I won’t retread here well-known paths. The road AI has traveled is on the record, and I’ve written about it multiple times before. The markers are both subtle and as obvious as broken tree limbs. The former kind shows up in a sentence like this, from the introduction to Amnesty’s 2012 report.

At the heart of many of these conflicts were economic development policies that left many, particularly those living in poverty and marginalized communities, at increased risk of abuse. [Emphasis added]

The kinds of “economic development policies” to which this sentence refers – would those be “neoliberal” economic development policies; I think they would be – are certainly arguable and grounds for a debate on economic development policy as a basis for social development. That these policies are also highly arguable as a focus of attention for a human rights organization is now beyond AI’s institutional ability to recognize.

What kind of marker represents the more obvious variety? How is this?

Amnesty International Calls on Sweden to Assure Julian Assange Won’t be Extradited to the United States

(Washington, D.C.) — Amnesty International calls on the Swedish authorities to issue assurances to the United Kingdom and to Julian Assange that if he leaves Ecuador’s London embassy and agrees to go to Sweden to face sexual assault claims, he will not be extradited to the United States in connection with Wikileaks.

Now Amnesty International is the philosopher king of the free and unfree worlds, the NGO Solomon seeking to divide the mother of judicial possession from the grasping arms of selfish enmity. How wise AI must be to take itself for a vision of justice made politically flesh and infallible.

Amnesty International believes that the forced transfer of Julian Assange to the United States in the present circumstances would expose him to a real risk of serious human rights violations, possibly including violation of his right to freedom of expression and the risk that he may be held in detention in conditions which violate the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

No, that is not a paragraph about the Soviet Union in 1966. Yes, the “forced transfer” distortion is a conscious, prejudicial substitute for legal “extradition.” Is it now the postion of Amnesty International that the United States is illegitimately governed, its legal system not merely to be questioned, but opposed, with the organization advocating that other nations forswear action in accordance with legal treaties of cooperation with the U.S.?

Arrogance is always striking, regardless of the repetition, but AI’s defensive advocacy of Julian Assange and Wikileaks is neither new nor surprising. The introduction to its 2011 report began,

The year 2010 may well be remembered as a watershed year when activists and journalists used new technology to speak truth to power.

Later it added,

This year Wikileaks, a website dedicated to posting documents received from a wide variety of sources, began publishing the first of hundreds of thousands of documents which were allegedly downloaded by a 22-year-old US Army intelligence analyst….

Wikileaks created an easily accessible dumping ground for whistleblowers around the world and showed the power of this platform by disseminating and publishing classified and confidential government documents. Early on, Amnesty International recognized Wikileaks’ contribution to human rights activism when Wikileaks posted information related to violations in Kenya in 2009. [Emphasis added]

The intellectual dishonesty of an organization with so exalted a sense of its own rightness should give one pause: imagine it as a nation-state and you might imagine it little different from any other in its process of blind self-justification. “Downloaded” is an awfully innocuous term. It masks the notions of theft and espionage and violation of national security, particularly as engaged in by a member of the military. “Whistleblowers” are cool; “spies” not necessarily so much, and what Amnesty elides in every presentation on the subject I have read is the nature of the relationship between Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, which is precisely the area in which the legitimate consideration by the United States of criminally prosecuting Assange is to be found. Here is AI in a published Q & A on Wikileaks.

Would prosecution of Julian Assange for releasing US government documents be a violation of the right to freedom of expression?

The US government has indicated since July 2010 that it is conducting a legal investigation into the actions of Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange for distributing secret documents.  A range of US political figures have called for a criminal prosecution of Assange.

According to Amnesty International, criminal proceedings aimed at punishing a private person for communicating evidence about human rights violations can never be justified. The same is true with respect to information on a wide range of other matters of public interest. [Emphasis added]

Notice that the focus here is on Assange’s releasing the documents and not on the process of acquiring them. What, also, if it is not only evidence of human rights violations that is released, but if this information is contained in what is really a much larger dump of legitimately classified and national security information? And what is the nature of this “information on a wide range of other matters of public interest” the illegal transmission of which AI justifies, on what legal basis?

Is it legitimate for governments to seek to keep their diplomatic discussions and negotiations confidential when they perceive it to be in their national interest?

Governments can of course in general seek to keep their communications confidential by using technical means or by imposing duties on their employees; it is not, however, legitimate for governments to invoke broad concepts of national security or national interest in justification of concealing evidence of human rights abuses.

Also, once information comes into the hands of private individuals, states cannot rely on sweeping claims of national interest to justify coercive measures aimed at preventing further public disclosure or discussion of the information. [Emphasis added]

“Comes into the hands of.”

Is Amnesty International concerned about the potential for harm to individuals as a result of the leaked information?

Amnesty International has consistently called on Wikileaks to make every possible effort to ensure that individuals are not put at increased risk of violence or other human rights abuses as a result of, for instance, being identifiable as sources in the documents.

However, risks of this kind are not the same as the risk of public embarrassment or calls for accountability that public officials could face if documents expose their involvement in human rights abuses or other forms of misconduct. [Emphasis added]

This last is very curious. The first sentence seems to warn against the possibility of individuals coming to “harm” – “increased risk of violence or other human rights” – as a consequence of unauthorized national security document releases. Let’s be clear, which AI is not, that what we mean by using such language in this context is death, and you would think, given the nature of an organization like Amnesty, and its hallowed history, that it would hold no higher goal than to work against such death. In that consideration “every possible effort” is pusillanimous, even deceptive, diplomatese. As it might be uttered by the nations committing the violations AI opposes, it means, “We tried, but in the end, other things were more important.” So the assurance-of-principles messaging is already muddled.

But the second, “however” sentence is totally incoherent. Given that the first sentence predicates the importance of protecting life (or, at any rate, making “every possible effort”), a “however” contrast would naturally introduce an exception to that paramount concern:

risks of this kind are not the same as the risk of public embarrassment or calls for accountability.

Well, I’m confused. “Not the same” how, exactly? Are they greater risks? Lesser? Of more importance? Diminished importance, in the greater scheme of things? Given the preceding statement, the however contrast should logically be telling us diminished – the potential harm to individuals is of diminished importance when weighed against the greater goal of “calls for accountability that public officials could face if documents expose their involvement in human rights abuses or other forms of misconduct.”

But Amnesty International, the defender of human rights, of, in the good old days, individual human rights – every individual’s – cannot possibly mean that?

Can it?

AJA

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19 comments

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Rob October 1, 2012 at 4:26 pm

When AI lauds “Wikileaks’ contribution to human rights activism,” for posting “information related to violations in Kenya in 2009,” they’re not telling the entire story of Julian Assange’s history in regard to Kenya.

In 2010, this is what Assange stated about his involvement in a leak which affected the Kenyan elections of 2007:

“1,300 people were eventually killed, and 350,000 were displaced. That was a result of our leak. On the other hand, the Kenyan people had a right to that information and 40,000 children a year die of malaria in Kenya. And many more die of money being pulled out of Kenya, and as a result of the Kenyan shilling being debased.”

One can’t be sure of his accuracy, but that he was taking credit for these tragedies and bragging about his role in fomenting that upheaval should more than give Amnesty pause. But it doesn’t. And I don’t believe Amnesty overlooked it, they just willfully ignored it.

As to the “information,” they cite from 2009, I believe they’re referring to this from Chris McGreal’s article in the Guardian, “Who Watches Wikileaks”:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/apr/10/wikileaks-collateral-murder-video-iraq

“WikiLeaks has also infuriated the author, Michela Wrong, who was horrified to discover her book exposing the depths of official corruption in Kenya, It’s Our Turn To Eat, was pirated and posted on WikiLeaks in its entirety on the grounds that Nairobi booksellers were reluctant to sell it for fear of being sued under Kenya’s draconian libel laws.

“Wrong was angry because, while she supports what WikiLeaks is about, the book is not a government document and is freely available across the rest of the world. From email distribution lists she could see that the pirated version was being emailed among Kenyans at home and abroad. “I was beside myself because I thought my entire African market is vanishing,” says Wrong. “I wrote to WikiLeaks and said, please, you’re going to damage your own cause because if people like me can’t make any money from royalties then publishers are not going to commission people writing about corruption in Africa.” She is not sure who she was communicating with because the WikiLeaks emails carried no identification but she assumes it was Assange because of the depth of knowledge about Kenya in the replies.

“He was enormously pompous, saying that in the interests of raising public awareness of the issues involved I had a duty to allow it to be pirated. He said: ‘This book may have been your baby, but it is now Kenya’s son.’ That really stuck in my mind because it was so arrogant,” she says. “On the whole I approve of WikiLeaks but these guys are infuriatingly self-righteous.” WikiLeaks does apparently expect others to respect its claims to ownership. It has placed a copyright symbol at the beginning of its film about the Iraq shootings.”

So it boils down to AI giving credit to Julian Assange for his work in Kenya when all he did was steal someone else’s work (not sure where to go with that, but I know there’s some cutting observation to be made on that point).

On the whole, AI is not being very transparent. And I wonder if Julian will leak their concealment of these pertinent facts back to AI so they can lecture him on human rights.

Of course when Amnesty did call Assange on the leaking of names, Assange tweeted this:

https://twitter.com/barrkel/statuses/20799229752

I’ll bet that was never included in an AI report. They didn’t want anyone to know the details about their organization actually being just another cog in our machine. And with that hanging over their heads, it’s obvious why Amnesty isn’t criticizing Assange: They’re putting their own interests ahead of human rights.

Do I sound conspiratorial enough yet?

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A. Jay Adler October 1, 2012 at 6:24 pm

Great information, Rob. Thanks.

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