Iraq · NGO Complex

The Problems of Amnesty International (Part 3)

In my first two posts on Amnesty International I documented their failure to support Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange and their promotion of narratives which fit in with the US and UK government’s desire for regime change in Syria. However, the Syria case is far from the only time when Amnesty International has promoted regime change narratives.

Thus the third reason to not support Amnesty International is:

They were instrumental in the claim that Iraqi soldiers were pulling babies out of incubators in Kuwait.

This claim is one of the most famous regime change lies in history. In short, after Iraqi soldiers entered into Kuwait, George H. W. Bush wanted to push for war with Iraq. But the public were split on the issue and reluctant to go to war. So Bush had to come up with something that would make war more palatable to the American public. Thus the Incubator Babies lie was used. This claim said that Iraqi soldiers were pulling babies out of incubators and leaving them to die on the floor. Testimony was given to Congress by Nayirah to this effect:

Of course, this claim turned out to be false and the ‘testimony’ turned out to have been coached for the purpose of pushing war. For further information we can quote the book “Weapons of Mass Deception”:

Three months passed between Nayirah’s testimony and the start of the war. During those months, the story of babies torn from their incubators was repeated over and over. […] At the Human Rights Caucus [where this testimony was given], however, Hill and Knowlton [PR firm intimately involved in pushing for the first Gulf war] and Congressman Lantos had failed to reveal that Nayirah was a member of the Kuwaiti Royal Family. […] The caucus also failed to reveal that Hill and Knowlton vice president Lauri Fitz-Pegado had coached Nayirah’s testimony.

Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, “Weapons of Mass Deception”, Constable and Robinson 2003 pp. 72-3.

So what is the role of Amnesty International in all this? The book also states:

Amnesty International repeated the claim in a December 1990 human rights report[.]

Rampton and Stauber pp. 72-3.

However, according to Francis Boyle this understates the case. In his article, “Amnesty International: Imperialist Tool” he discusses this issue. He was once on the board of Amnesty International and his article discusses various problems with the institution not limited to Iraq. He has this to say about the report on the incubator babies:

As a Member of the AIUSA Board, I received a pre-publication copy of the Dead Babies Report. I read it immediately and quite carefully. First, this report contained technical errors that should have precluded its publication. Second, even if all these sensational allegations had been true, it was clear that publication of this report at that critical moment in time (December 1990) would only be used by the United States and Britain to monger for war against Iraq. I expressed these opinions in the strongest terms possible and that this report should not be published because it was inaccurate; or that if for some reason it were to be published, it must be accompanied by an errata sheet. Amnesty International published the Dead Babies Report anyway despite my vigorous objections, and launched their Disinformation Campaign against Iraq. 

Also according to John R. MacArthur, a journalist who revealed Nayirah’s identity as part of the Kuwaiti royal family:

And it’s clear that, I mean, numerous representatives and senators cited the baby incubator atrocity, which was false—it never happened—as a reason for voting for the Gulf War resolution. In other words, these are people who said, “Well, look, we could figure out other ways to get Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait—economic sanctions, negotiations.” There was a feeling that this was about oil, it wasn’t about principle, even though Bush posed it as a matter of international law. But these people said, finally, “Look, if he’s really Hitler, if he’s really capable of having an army that slaughters”—and it got to hundreds of babies by the time Amnesty International gave its official seal of approval to the story.

In other words, Amnesty’s seal of approval for this story may well have swung certain senators into voting for the Gulf War – and the vote on this issue was very close – 52 to 47.

There is not too much else to say on this issue, as it is a matter of historical record. Amnesty did later admit that the incubator babies story was false, after investigative journalism involving interviewing doctors in Kuwait found no evidence of the story. It also turned out that there were hardly any incubators in Kuwait, so the story of mass death from soldiers throwing babies out of incubators was also prima facie false.

As we can see, Amnesty has been pushing for US based regime change wars for a long time, and this is hardly a one off mistake or error, as we can see from their coverage of Syria and their disdain for Manning and Assange.

Media · NGO Complex · Syria

Amnesty International Promoting Syria Lies, Again

So a while back I wrote a couple of posts discussing Amnesty International and why I think it is a problematic organisation that operates within and to support the Western propaganda matrix. One of these posts discussed Amnesty International’s coverage of Syria – and in particular the alleged chemical attack in Douma – which contained establishment lies that they refused to correct when the leaks showing the doubtful veracity of the chemical attack. Now the organisation is again promoting lies about Syria.

Well, who the hell is this Chris D. York and why is it a problem?

It turns out this guy, a writer for Huffington Post UK, is playing a similar role to Oliver Kamm at the Times in keeping the Syria lies flowing. As Caitlin Johnstone has written:

Senior Huffington Post UK editor Chris York has published what is by my count his twelfth smear piece against a small group of academics and independent journalists who’ve expressed skepticism of establishment Syria narratives.

York’s obsessive deluge of hit pieces revolve around British academics Tim Hayward and Piers Robinson, as well as independent journalist Vanessa Beeley.

Caitlin Johnstone

As a piece of advice to anyone out there, Amnesty International is not a trustworthy organization and should not be supported.

NGO Complex · Syria

The Problems with Amnesty International (Part 2)

In Part 1, I outlined that I believe that Amnesty International is a problematic organisation, and gave the first reason for this: its lack of support for Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange, and its refusal to consider them prisoners of conscience and actively campaign on their cases despite both suffering severe human rights violations – including torture. This has the effect of helping to support US empire, as both Manning and Assange have exposed the lies of empire by revealing the reality of regime change.

However, Amnesty International goes further than this, and does not just fail to support truth tellers about war crimes – it actively participates in spreading lies and misinformation about Western targets for regime change. This is all the more dangerous as Amnesty is considered to be a trustworthy organisation by many in the West, making the potential impact of regime change lies much greater.

Thus the second problem with Amnesty International is:

It has been important in disseminating regime change propaganda about Syria.

This is not the place for a detailed description of the events of the Syria conflict; a brief summary will suffice for those not familiar with it. In 2011, there were protests in Syria as part of the (as dubbed by the West) ‘Arab Spring’. There were some protesters with legitimate grievances against the Assad government, but many of the protests quickly turned violent. Islamic extremist groups who are supported by the West and their proxies in the region (Saudi Arabia and Israel) took up arms against Assad although many (most?) of these individuals are not Syrian. The Syrian people in the form of the Syrian Arab Army have been resisting these extremist groups and have slowly gained the upper hand in this conflict, with the help of Russian forces, one of Syria’s key allies. The West desires regime change in Syria and has been assisting opposition forces through ‘Operation Timber-Sycamore’ among other operations. Amnesty International has played into this by supporting narratives critical of Assad, even if those narratives are not backed up by clear evidence.

According to Tim Hayward in his article “How We Were Misled About Syria: Amnesty International“, the organisation has been promoting strong claims of crimes by the Assad ‘regime’ since very early on in the conflict. Amnesty wrote an article called ‘Deadly Detention’ in which it accused the Syrian government o committing crimes against humanity. However Hayward argues this report was not rigorous enough given the extremely serious nature of its claims. The report admitted that the evidence had not been gathered on the ground and there was a lack of corroboration for many of the claims. In the footnotes to his article, Hayward goes into more detail about this issue.

This is not the only case where Amnesty reporting on Syria has been faulty. More recently, a report called “Human Slaughterhouse: Mass Hangings and Extermination at Saydnaya Prison,”  was released by Amnesty International. Independent media has criticised this report for suffering the same failings as ‘Deadly Detention’. As written in Consortium News:

[The report] relies on third parties, it did not gather its information from different points of view, and it did not cross-check with all parties. The report’s conclusions are not based on primary sources, material evidence or AI’s own staff; the findings are solely based on the claims of anonymous individuals, mostly in southern Turkey from where the war on Syria is coordinated.

Rick Sterling, Consortium News

I decided to look on Amnesty’s website to see what they had been saying about Syria. Of course, searching for ‘Syria’ brings up a cascade of results, so I decided to look into what had been published by Amnesty on the alleged Douma chemical attack. I found this article “How Open Source Evidence took a lead role in the response to the Douma chemical weapons attack.”, published on the 23rd April 2018.

I am certain that the recent images from Douma that have been collated and verified – using well-established methodologies – by trusted organizations are not faked

Sam Dubberley, Manager of Amnesty International’s Digital Verification Corps

Now this in an interesting quote, because nowhere in the article is the word ‘fake’ clarified. In this kind of context, fake could mean two things: firstly a fake image could be that which is digitally manipulated and so on in order to show something that is not true. But the second possibility is that the ‘fake’ image is real in the sense of the fact that it was actually taken at the location but the incident was ‘fake’ i.e. staged. An image could be not fake in the first sense but very much fake in the second sense. This is nowhere raised or explained in the article.

The article then goes on to discuss the spread of ‘fake news’ across social media and how the Syrian government is taking advantage of it to hide their real atrocities. It then goes on to say:

The aftermath of the 7 April attack on Douma saw a spike in this type of false content – a Pentagon spokesperson cited a 2,000% increase in activity by Russian bots. A particularly striking example, spotted by the online investigation collective Bellingcat, was footage shared as “proof” that the White Helmets had staged the attacks. In fact, it was taken from “Revolution Man” – a fictional film funded by the Syrian Ministry of Culture about a journalist who enters Syria and fabricates chemical weapons attacks.

Sam Dubberley, Manager of Amnesty International’s Digital Verification Corps

In an article about Syria, they are literally quoting the a Pentagon spokesperson as authoritative evidence. The claim by the Pentagon spokesperson is taken at face value with no critical analysis whatsoever. No evidence is presented. A supposed impartial human rights organisation relying on claims by the Pentagon without critical assessment reveals the real lack of impartiality behind the mask. We also know that real Twitter users who disagree with the UK and US governments have been called Russian bots – for example the user Ian56, who is clearly not a Russian bot as he did interviews with Sky News and the independent journalist Gordon Dimmack.

Then they cite Bellingcat, an organisation responsible for pushing the bizarre Skripal narrative in the UK. This reference to Bellingcat is also concerning as the organisation has more recently (after the publication of the Amnesty report) promoted nonsense about Syria. Eliot Higgins, the founder of Bellingcat, has made baseless claims regarding the Henderson report, a leaked engineer’s report from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OCPW) which provides evidence that the establishment claim – that the chlorine gas cylinders were dropped from a helicopter – is implausible.

Then this idea that the White Helmets staged a video is mentioned but immediately dismissed. This has aged very badly, since even a BBC journalist has admitted that the footage was staged at this point. I haven’t seen or heard of the ‘Revolution Man’ footage, but even if the claims relating to this are true, it doesn’t invalidate the possibility that the White Helmets staged the video – it merely proves one piece of evidence for that claim is false. There is also no serious discussion or consideration of the mountains of evidence pointing to the dodgy nature of the White Helmets that has been filmed by individuals on the ground.

An objective human rights organisation would revisit the claims around the Douma attack in the wake of the leaked Henderson report, and correct the record of any false or misleading claims that were made at that time [the above article doesn’t outright say the Syrian government is responsible, but it is implied]. However, a search ran on Amnesty’s website for the word ‘Douma’ reveals the most recent article available is from 3 May 2018:

Amnesty International is thus not to be trusted in its coverage of Syria. Any individual who is honestly concerned about the Syrian people should instead amplify the voices of independent journalists such as Eva Bartlett and Vanessa Beeley who are telling the truth about the real situation on the ground in Syria.

NB: For further information regarding Amnesty International’s Syria lies and distortions, see this excellent list of articles from 21st Century Wire.

Assange and Manning · NGO Complex

The Problems of Amnesty International (Part 1)

Amnesty International is widely regarded as a genuine and good human rights organisation, though admittedly one that has recently come under fire for suicides and mental health problems among its workers. However, there are also deeper problems with Amnesty International – the way that it often plays into US imperial narratives.

If you examine the homepage of Amnesty International you will see lots of things that are legitimate human rights issues and even some that provide some criticism of Western allies such as South Korea and Israel (both criticised on the home page of Amnesty on 12/07/19):

Amnesty International Home page 12th July 2019.
Story featured on Amnesty International home page 12th July 2019.

Looking at these the problem is not immediately obvious. But then again, if the problem with Amnesty was immediately obvious, it probably would not have been effective at what it does. Ordinary people who get involved with an organisation like Amnesty generally legitimately want to help others and believe that by working with and through Amnesty they can make real gains in human rights. Unfortunately these people have been sucked into supporting an organisation that sides with the US empire when push comes to shove.

So here is the first reason to not support Amnesty International:

They refuse to consider Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange as prisoners of conscience.

Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange have both played important roles in undermining empire by revealing its moral bankruptcy. Chelsea Manning leaked Iraq & Afghanistan documents that revealed war crimes by the US government to Julian Assange’s organisation, Wikileaks. For the ‘crime’ of making this public both have suffered terrible penalties. At present, the US is trying to force Chelsea Manning to testify to a grand jury by the mechanism of imposing imprisonment and punitive fines, while Julian Assange is in a high security British prison on the ‘crime’ of ‘skipping’ bail to seek asylum.

It is clear that the human rights of Manning and Assange have been violated in multiple ways. Yet Amnesty international have not called these two individuals prisoners of conscience, nor are they actively addressing their cases.

As written by Cassandra Fairbanks:

Earlier this month [May 2019], Maxine Walker of Julian Assange Defence Committee (JADC) had sent a letter to Amnesty urging them to defend Assange as he is in “grave peril,” according to a report from [World Socialist Web Site].

On May 17, the JADC received a response from Amnesty International UK in which they stated that “Julian Assange’s case is a case we’re monitoring closely but not actively working on. Amnesty International does not consider Julian Assange to be a Prisoner of Conscience.”

[…]

As far as Manning goes, Amnesty claims that she is not a Prisoner of Conscience worthy of their support because “detention for not testifying before a grand jury is not itself illegal.”

Cassandra Fairbanks, District Herald

A search of Amnesty International’s website leads to pitiful number of results for the word ‘Assange’:

Search for the term ‘Assange’ on Amnesty International’s website [12 July 2019].

As there’s so few of these we can quote all five headlines:

  • Q&A: Wikileaks and Freedom of Expression [16 December 2010];
  • Sweden should issue assurance it won’t extradite Assange to the USA [27 September 2012];
  • Julian Assange must not be extradited to the USA [11 April 2019];
  • Julian Assange: Rape Allegations must be treated with utmost seriousness [13 May 2019];
  • UK Must Refuse extradition of Julian Assange to the United States [13 June 2019].

If you’re a supporter of Amnesty or cynical of what I’m saying, you could ask what I’m complaining about here. After all, the website states they are opposed to extradition! What more do you want?

Firstly, to claim to be a human rights organisation and to run only 5 articles about Julian Assange over a period of 9 years is ridiculous, given the implications of this case for global press freedom. If Assange is extradited and convicted under the Espionage Act, that is such a large concern [a non-US publisher being convicted under a law that was passed in 1917 to combat WW1 spies?] that a pitiful number of articles – less than one a year! – can hardly be considered sufficient.

Secondly, the excellent Nils Melzer and his reports on Assange have received no mention. Nils Melzer is the UN Rappeuter on Torture, who has carefully examined the Julian Assange case and has come to the conclusion that he has been psychologically tortured. He published this article on June 26 which the mainstream media refused to print. He has been speaking out on the Assange issue repeatedly across June including on On Contact with Chris Hedges. Yet there is no article discussing these very serious and carefully documented arguments by Melzer of Assange’s torture, despite the fact that the torture of a journalist is clearly a severe violation of human rights.

Thirdly, if we examine the dates on the articles, the period which Assange spent in the Ecuadorian embassy – including the violations of Assange’s rights by Lenin Moreno – have received no coverage at all from Amnesty. They have not spoken up when Assange was silenced in the Ecuadorian embassy by having his internet cut off despite the fact that Assange needed voices to amplify him given he couldn’t speak for himself. Releasing a few weak protests about his possible extradition after he had already been dragged out of the embassy while ignoring him for 7 years can hardly be considered credible support for Assange.

Let’s continue by searching for Manning:

search for term ‘Manning’ on Amnesty International website [July 12 2019].

There are 43 results here. I divided the articles into four categories through scanning the headlines and blurbs:

  • Primarily about Chelsea Manning: 19;
  • Partially about Chelsea Manning: 5;
  • Related issues: 3 [1 Wikileaks; 2 Edward Snowden];
  • Unrelated to Chelsea Manning (other people called Manning, etc): 16.

So there has been more coverage of Manning by Amnesty than of Assange. It appears that when she was imprisoned the first time Amnesty did run a campaign for her in 2014 and advocated for her to be released from prison. However the organisation has made no mention of her re-imprisonment by the grand jury – the most recent article about her refers to her release in 2017. To simply state that Manning’s imprisonment is not illegal and therefore she is not worthy of being considered a prisoner of conscience is a ridiculous argument. Amnesty is opposed to the death penalty but that is legal in many countries. Dismissing her as not a prisoner of conscience also ignores the principles she stands for and the fact that this is an attempt to get a source to testify against a publisher – which is inherently problematic as an attack on a free press.

There have also been clear human rights abuses in her treatment. For her first 28 days behind bars for refusing to testify before the Grand Jury Manning was in “administrative segregation” – which in reality is solitary confinement. Being placed in solitary confinement for 28 days is considered torture. This is how Manning described her experience:

While in adseg, I suffered many of the ill effects of prolonged isolation as described by former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez. For instance, consistent with the research of former Harvard Medical School professor Stuart Grassian, I experienced difficulty keeping attention on anything, sometimes referred to as a “dissociative stupor.” Thinking and concentrating get harder. Anxiety, frustration with minor things, irritation, and a spiraling inability to tolerate each symptom take hold. At one point I started feeling ill during a short visit in a noncontact visit booth while struggling to have even a normal conversation. After weeks of under-stimulation, I became nauseated with vertigo and vomited on the floor, ending my visit prematurely.

Manning has also stated that:

Only a few months before re-incarceration, I received gender confirmation surgery. This left my body vulnerable to injury and infection, leading to possible complications that I am now seeking treatment for.

Chelsea Manning in a video statement

She added this is another statement:

It appears that I have already developed some complications during my stay at ADC. Medical staff acknowledges they lack expertise to examine or assist me appropriately[.] […] Every passing day further complicates my medical care and health, exposing me to permanent, intractable complications.

So, not only has Manning had her right to healthcare violated, but this has also violated her rights as a trans* woman – as she has been unable to see appropriate medical professionals or been able to practise self-care effectively.

An organisation which claims to be a vital defender of human rights is failing in its responsibility to defend Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning. This is one reason why it is not a trustworthy organisation.