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Amnesty International - Not a Reliable Source
by Steven Plaut
15 June 2003

Its leftist orientation has resulted in AI acting less and less as a human rights watchdog, and more and more as an anti-American and anti-Israel pit bull.


Amnesty International (AI) represents itself as a human rights watchdog organization that likes to style itself "the world's largest private human rights organization."  Up to a point, it is.   It has done valuable work in many countries on behalf of human rights and has shown light upon abuses of those rights in many a dark corner of the world.   But Amnesty International has never restricted itself to protection of civil rights.  It has long been a highly politicized organization that has ties with and identifies with the political agenda of the left.  In particular, it has vehement anti-American and anti-Israel political biases.  This leftist orientation has resulted in AI acting less and less as a human rights watchdog, and more and more as an anti-American and anti-Israel pit bull.
AI earned a Nobel Prize for its campaigns on behalf of human rights in 1977.  To AI’s credit it has taken some politically incorrect positions.   It has denounced Iranian persecution of Jews and has issued reports about the dismal state of human rights in Arab countries.   It has spoken out against anti-Jewish attacks in a variety of countries.  It has repeatedly criticized human rights abuse by the PLO directed against Arabs, including attacking the PLO’s  infringement of the rights of free speech and free press, and has denounced PLO executions of “collaborators” and Palestinian “prisoners of conscience."   AI earned the badge of honor of being publicly attacked by the spokesman for the PLO, Saeb Erekat, because Amnesty criticized the Palestinian Authority's claim that it cannot prevent attacks because its security forces have been severely damaged by repeated Israeli air strikes and demolitions. AI responded to this nonsense by saying, "This does not diminish its obligation to take concrete measures to prevent attacks, to conduct thorough and impartial investigations and to bring those responsible to justice."  Last year for the first time Amnesty denounced Palestinian atrocities committed against Jews as "crimes against humanity under international law."   It was better late than never.
Unfortunately, while recently discovering that Palestinian terrorism constitutes the abuse of human rights of its victims, Amnesty has remained reticent about the fact that it is the PLO itself and not simply the Hamas, Jihad and similar Islamist groups, that are responsible for terrorist atrocities.  In recent years the bulk of Palestinian terror, including many suicide bombings, were perpetrated by members of the Fat’h, Al-Aqsa ‘Martyrs,’ and the Tanzim, all PLO factions under the direct personal command and control of Arafat himself.   Amnesty pretends that some amorphous unnamed organizations are conducting Palestinian terror, not the PLO.   While AI is willing to denounce PLO violations of the rights of Arabs, it is all but silent about PLO terrorism and atrocities committed against Jews.   While acknowledging that Palestinian terrorists (but not the PLO) have targeted Israeli children, Amnesty maintains “balance” by insisting that Israel also intentionally targets children, a bit like arguing in the same breath that Nazi German and the Allies in 1944 both killed people. AI has never quite come out with a clear defense of the right of Israel to protect the human right of its children not to be blown to bits by the PLO.
While Amnesty International has done excellent work in some areas, its political biases are often visible.  Its credibility  has been severely damaged because of its inability to separate out its leftist political advocacy from its determination to protect human rights.
Among the many problems of Amnesty International are:
[1] AI suffers from an acute case of the Moynihan Syndrome.   According to Moynihan’s law, the amount of violations of human rights in a country is always an inverse function of the amount of complaints about human rights violations heard from there.  The greater the number of complaints being aired, the better protected are human rights in that country.  The reason is obvious.  Those countries in which human rights are the most severely violated are also those where no freedom of speech nor press is permitted.  This explains the AI reticence and almost total absence of denunciation of human rights abuses in places like North Korea and Cambodia.  It also explains why AI apparently had no knowledge of the killing fields in southern Iraq until US and British troops uncovered them in the recent war.
[2] AI makes no distinction between the fighting of wars and the civil procedures of judicial due process.   If AI were setting the rules, the Allied troops in World War II would never shoot a German nor a Japanese soldier before first Mirandizing them and making sure they had the right to appeal their being shot in a duly constituted courtroom with public defenders present.

This inability to understand that war is not a law school mock trial nor a schoolyard game is evident in the jihad by AI against countries defending themselves against terrorism.  AI has repeated condemned both the US and Israel for violating the “rights” of terrorists, and for use of force against terrorism in which innocent bystanders get hurt.  AI has generally NOT condemned terrorists for causing these innocent bystanders getting hurt by hiding amongst them and for opening fire from behind human shields.
[3] AI has an academic notion of ethical pureness, which it insists must be applied in the dirty business of war and in the battle against terror.  While paying mere lip service to why terror is not nice, AI refuses to draw the obvious conclusion that those battling against terror must use means that sometimes have unpleasant side affects.  If those fighting terror never use violence, terror wins.   If those fighting terror must never use impure methods that may cause collateral damages, this is the same as saying they give up any struggle against terrorism altogether.
AI refuses to countenance any tradeoffs at all in the war against terror.   If Western countries must choose between suffering endless mass atrocities committed by terrorists or battling terrorism using means that produce some civilian casualties, AI clearly prefers the former choice.
AI has gone so far as to denounce Israel for passing a law that denies Palestinians injured while attacking Israeli troops and civilians the right to sue Israel for compensation in Israeli courts (AI statement from 27 July 1997).
[4] AI routinely goes beyond issuing complaints about violations of human rights to open endorsements of the political aims of anti-American, anti-Israel, Far Left and Third World totalitarian political organizations.
In the name of “protecting human rights,” AI regularly and repeatedly endorses the political goals of the PLO, including its “right” to its own state, and has condemned Israeli “occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.  Since when is taking one side in a territorial dispute a form of defending human rights?   Would AI have supported Hitler’s demands that the Polish, Czechoslovakian and French “occupations” of what he regarded as “German lands” - all in the name of human rights?  AI has also discovered that Palestinians have a “right,” not only to their own state in the West Bank and Gaza but also to migrate to and reclaim any property inside Israel they may wish to claim.  Of the countless hundreds of millions of people who became refugees after World War II, the only ones with such an AI-recognized “right” are the Palestinians.  
AI has never had anything to say about the rights of Jews who were evicted from Moslem countries to reclaim their property, and their property was worth perhaps a hundred times more than anything left behind by any emigrating “Palestinians”.  It is only a question of time before AI discovers that Tories evicted from the US by patriots in the 1770s also have the right of return.
[5] AI’s own website links to a large number of pro-terrorist, anti-Jewish, pro-violence, extremist organizations.   The Anti-Defamation League has repeatedly denounced AI for its anti-Jewish bias, although it has praised AI efforts on behalf of the imprisoned Iranian Jews who were “convicted” in an Iranian show trial.  AI has participated in anti-Israel political rallies and collaborated with Arab and other anti-Jewish propagandists. 
A letter from Amnesty International USA signed by its Executive Director, William Schultz, explains Amnesty’s official sponsorship of a Palestinian Right of Return rally:   In it he says this “right”... is based on the fact that our mandate opposes forcible exile. ... The right of refugees to return is guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 13(2) which states: “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” Amnesty staffer Marty Rosenbluth, who has repeatedly signed extremist ads declaring that “the Zionist structure of the state of Israel is at the heart of the racism and oppression against the Palestinian people and should be dismantled,” was the Amnesty International speaker at the rally.
Quite clearly such a “right to return” to their homeland does not evidently apply to any Jews.   AI has sponsored events in which the PLO’s official spokeswoman, Hanan Ashrawi, spoke, leaving little doubt about AI’s political position regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict.   AI has participated in many other Bash-Israel rallies and events.
[6] Yitzhak Rabin himself denounced AI for its anti-Israel bias.  AI repeated refers to imprisoned Palestinian terrorists and murderers as "prisoners of conscience and possible prisoners of conscience."    When Rabin released hundreds of these prisoners after the OSLO signing, he got no pat on his back from AI, and when 25 of these released “prisoners of conscience” were later arrested for participating in terrorist atrocities, AI never said “Ooops.”   AI regular denounces Israel for practicing “torture,” evidently on the basis of assertions by Israel’s own Far Left anti-Israel leftists (including the head of Israel’s own AI offices) and the PLO.  In reality, torture is prohibited both by Israeli law and in practice. Every complaint regarding interrogation practices is thoroughly investigated at the Israel Ministry of Justice.
Amnesty International’s website is crawling with Israel-bashing materials, containing the telling heading: "Israel-Occupied Territories - Stop Destroying Lives."  AI has been sharply criticized by the “NGO Monitor” for this sort of politicized bias and for selective reporting and outright lying. 
Other forms of anti-Israel bias fill AI reports. In his recent publication, Illegal Construction in Jerusalem, Justus Weiner documents how Amnesty chose to employ one Anthony Coon as their expert on town planning to review Israeli actions in Jerusalem;  Coon had demonstrated a long-term commitment to defending illegal Palestinian construction and had previously worked for two years as an employee of the PLO front group Al-Haq. Weiner provides evidence of another instance of a former Al-Haq employee writings its reports on the Middle East.
The Jerusalem Post discovered that AI reports had been retroactively altered in order to make Israel look bad.  Jewish newspapers have often denounced the anti-Jewish bias of AI.   AI also has a long history of promoting moral equivalence between acts of violence by terrorists and acts of violence by those defending themselves against terrorist atrocities.
In a typical case of AI neutrality and objectivity, the Economist cites Amnesty International’s allegations in its June 29, 2002 issue that PLO leader Marwan Barghouti (whom it describes as "an inspiring resistance leader") is "being tortured" in an Israeli jail.   What The Economist and AI did not say is that the Amnesty claim was in turn based on one unverified allegation from the PLO’s Palestine Media Center.   Nor did they mention that Barghouti was arrested by Israel in connection to his involvement in the January 17 terror attack in Hadera that killed six, the January 22 attack in downtown Jerusalem that killed two, and the March 4 attack at the Tel Aviv Seafood Market restaurant that killed three.
[7] AI has taken positions that are absurd, comical, and ludicrous regarding what constitutes a “human right.”   Not only is recognition of gay marriage a human right.  Not only are al-Qaida terrorists held by the US in Guantanamo entitled to AAA treatment becoming prisoners of war or ordinary incarcerated criminals in American suburbia.
AI recently discovered a NEW human right, the right not to have to listen to the music of the Barney and Sesame Street TV shows.  Newsweek reported recently that AI had issued an official protest that the al-Qaida and Taliba prisoners in Guantanamo were being forced to listen to background music from the purple reptile.   Bert and Ernie are apparently sadistic violators of human rights far worse than Saddam Hussein ever was, in AI opinion.
Only slightly less wacky is the AI defense of the “right” to disobey the law and to refuse to serve one’s country by far Leftists.  It considers the forced transfer of people involved in terrorism from one town to another town in the “occupied territories” to be a human rights abuse (AI Index: MDE 15/133/2002 (Public) News Service No: 154 3 September 2002), and I suspect a teacher transferring a rowdy pupil from one row to the next might also be at risk of arousing AI ire.
[8] AI has long shown a vile anti-American bias.  Heather MacDonald recently did an expose of AI anti-Americanism.

AI has conducted a jihad against America’s attempt to defend itself from Islamofascist terrorism.  It refuses to acknowledge that such terrorism even exists.  It routinely refers to September 11 and other atrocities as “terrorism,” WITH the quotation marks, and as the “so-called war against terrorism." Throughout its report of the anti-terror campaign, Amnesty puts “terrorist” in quotes to signal the organization’s ironic detachment from the term.  As MacDonald has said, “If you can’t bring yourself to use the word ‘terrorist’ non-ironically, there is indeed much about recent government actions that will look arbitrary or discriminatory.”  AI insists that the American anti-terror campaign has a hidden, nefarious, racist anti-Arab agenda.

AI denounced the US using its immigration laws against suspected terrorists including those who are non-citizens and illegal residents in the country.  MacDonald writes:  “The Amnesty report tries through innuendo and obfuscation to make the 9/11 detentions seem scary and illegal; the fact is, however, that the INS has the authority to detain an illegal alien deemed a flight risk or a threat to public safety pending deportation. The detainees have been able to challenge their imprisonment through habeas corpus petitions, thus availing themselves of the most fundamental due process right: judicial review.”   

Pierre Sane, the Secretary General of Amnesty International said that the USA was far from observing the rights for all people, although America calls itself the defender of human rights.

“The violation of human rights in the USA is of stable character, the representatives of the ethnic minorities are the victims of those violations,” AI’s Pierre Sanehas has declared.   He added that the “bad attitude” and the “brutality” of the police could be found all over the country.    Homeless people who ask for a shelter go to jail as a rule, he insists.    The death penalty is in effect, “even used against disabled and underage people.” 
AI has repeatedly endorsed the attempt by Belgium and similar busybodies to indict American and Israeli leaders for “human rights violations” for such things as their campaigns against terrorism.   AI has been dramatically indifferent to violations of the rights of Jews by Palestinians.
AI has always regarded the PLO itself as a reliable source about “abuses” committed by Israel.  Addressing the media in Jerusalem in November 1989, Amnesty International spokesman Richard Reoch acknowledged that his organization regarded the PLO, which works with the PHRIC, as an objective information source. "Since the PLO is not a government body," he said, "we feel comfortable with Amnesty using them as a source." 
Israel has repeatedly denounced AI’s bias.  Consider this citation from one such denunciation:
“The Palestinian terrorists are solely and unequivocally responsible for the injuries caused to Palestinian children. Since the beginning of the conflict two years ago, the Palestinian terrorist factions have cynically exploited children in terrorist activity, in violation of international law. Children are groomed and dispatched to carry out suicide attacks in the centers of the Israeli civilian population; positioned at the front lines of demonstrations to hide snipers behind them; and used to plant explosives and deliver weapons. Moreover, the terrorist factions have transformed Palestinian civilian population centers into terrorist activity headquarters.... Whoever uses children to perpetrate terror attacks, anyone who uses houses were children reside to coordinate and perpetrate attacks is responsible for injuring these children.

“Authors of the Amnesty report compare IDF operations in which Palestinian children were killed to Palestinian terror attacks in which Israeli children were killed. This comparison is unjustified and baseless. Palestinian terror attacks, especially suicide bombings, are designated to cause the death of Israeli civilians, including children: this is ruthless, unprecedented, inhuman terror. On the other hand, IDF activity is conducted in accordance with the laws of war and is not aimed at injuring civilians. Injuries are occasionally sustained only because the Palestinian terrorists act from within centers of Palestinian civilian population. Hence, any comparison between the two is groundless, and indicates a fundamental lack of balance among authors of the report.”

In other matters, AI gave credence to the now-thoroughly-debunked claims that a “massacre” of Palestinians had taken place in Jenin when Israeli troops entered the city following a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings of Israeli civilians.  AI intentionally lied about the attacks on Israelis that led to the Israeli retaliations.   John Podhoretz has outted the AI bias in its “reporting” about that battle in the New York Post, 4/24/02.  He pointed out that Amnesty International also accused the Israelis of unnecessary damage to property even though a glance at an aerial picture shows that majority of property in the Jenin camp was untouched.  Since they have a preconceived belief that Israelis would do unnecessary damage, evidence to the contrary is ignored.

Even leftists have denounced AI’s distortions of what took place in Jenin.  While never quite denouncing the suicide bombers themselves in terms that ring true, AI denounces Israel’s conduct of the reprisal raids against the terrorists.  The Boston Globe’s Charles Radin, Jerusalem bureau chief, and Globe reporter Dan Ephron outted AI in their April 29, 2002 article entitled "Claims of massacre go unsupported by Palestinian fighters," where they show that that Amnesty International’s charges against Israel were contradicted by Palestinian witnesses themselves. The group had falsely said that "Israel failed to provide safe passage from the camp to noncombatants." Over and over AI has accepted at face value and repeated unsubstantiated accusations by Arabs against Israel for alleged mistreatment.

Amnesty’s anti-Israel bias is followed closely by its Number Two bias, its dislike of America and Western countries.   The Weekly Standard has repeatedly reported about AI’s anti-American bias.  Amnesty repeated claimed the US was perpetrating “war crimes” and human rights atrocities in its invasion of Iraq.   Among these was the bombing of an Iraqi TV station, which constituted a war crime according to Claudio Cordone, a senior director for international law at Amnesty International, who insisted, "The bombing of a television station simply because it is being used for purposes of propaganda is unacceptable."   On FrontPage Magazine, Christopher Archangelli documented Amnesty’s sorry history of anti-Americanism, while nearly turning a blind eye to atrocities by Saddam’s regime.  National Review columnist Jonah Goldberg in an article entitled Hypocrophobia, quotes Irene Khan, the head of Amnesty, as denouncing Western reports documenting human rights abuses by Saddam’s Iraq because they might be used to justify an Allied invasion of Iraq,

Heather MacDonald sums things up thus:  “Such highly politicized and error-filled criticism of American anti-terrorism efforts devalues the currency of human rights advocacy. Though Amnesty International has done vital work on behalf of prisoners of conscience, it undermines its own credibility when it claims that allowing 9/11 detainees to exercise only in the early morning is a human rights violation. While in the terrible aftermath of 9/11 individual law enforcement officers may have committed some procedural irregularities, Amnesty and its fellow advocates fail to demonstrate any constitutional or international law violations. In their condemnation of the government for taking lawful actions to protect its citizens from catastrophic attack, these civil rights defenders appear to have lost all touch with reality.”

Steven Plaut teaches at the University of Haifa.

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