Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Lazy Left

When President Bush called the recent Amnesty International report on conditions at Guantanamo "absurd", I was initially outraged. What made the Administration so upset about the report was that it referred to Guantanamo as "the Gulag of our times". This line grabbed headlines and public attention, but a closer look shows the comparison does not hold up. I find that I have to side with the administration...(wait, I think I just barfed in my mouth)... Comparing the Guantanamo to the Gulags is actually absurd. This is the kind of lazy rhetoric that gets the left into trouble. Amnesty International, along with every American, should be concerned with what is happening at Guantanamo. But it undermines the effort to attack the Administration with such an outrageous overstatement. On Friday, the New Republic had a web-only article comparing the stats of the Soviet Gulags to Guantanamo. Here are some of the highlights.

Individuals Detained:

Gulag: Approximately 20 million passed through the Gulag. The population at any one time was generally around two million.
Guantánamo: 750 prisoners have passed through the camp. The current population is about 520.

Number of Camps:
Gulag: 476 separate camp complexes comprising thousands of individual camps. By the end of the 1930s, camps were located in each of the Soviet Union's twelve time zones.
Guantánamo: Five small camps on the U.S. military base in Cuba.

Reasons for Imprisonment:
Gulag: Opposition to the Soviet regime's forced collectivization, including efforts to hide grain in cellars; owning too many cows; need for slave labor to complete massive industrialization and mining projects; political opposition to the Soviet system; being Jewish; being Finnish; being religious; being middle class; being in need of reeducation; having had contact with foreigners; refusing to sleep with the head of Soviet counterintelligence; telling a joke about Stalin.
Guantánamo: Fighting for the fundamentalist Taliban in Afghanistan; being suspected of links to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

Deaths as a Result of Poor Treatment:
Gulag: At least two to three million. Mass burials were often employed to keep death rates secret (camp commanders sometimes received permission to remove gold fillings before burial). In some particularly brutal periods, camp commanders simply executed thousands of prisoners. But deaths due to overwork were much more common. It is estimated that 25,000 gulag laborers died during the construction of the White Sea Canal in the early '30s. One convoy of "backward elements" destined for the Gulag in 1933 included about 6,000 prisoners; after three months, 4,000 were dead. "The survivors had lived because they ate the flesh of those who had died," according to an account cited by Anne Applebaum in her book, Gulag.
Guantánamo: No reports of prisoner deaths.