Amnesty International Executive Director Comes to USD
On March 9t,h, before a capacity audience at the Institute for Peace & Justice Theatre, Amnesty International Executive Director William Schulz delivered a speech entitled, “Tainted Legacy: 9/11 and the Ruin of Human Rights,” as part of the IPJ’s Distinguished Lecture Series. Introduced by IPJ Executive Director Joyce Neu as a “deeply subversive, deeply caring, champion of human rights,” Schulz appeared personable and at ease in a funny and poignant speech that was extremely critical of the Bush administration and what he called a human rights community that had “completely failed to articulate [an alternative] strategy for fighting terrorism.”
On the very day that President Bush signed an extension of the Patriot Act, Schulz criticized what he referred to as a wide-ranging number of human rights abuses committed by the United States government. Schulz began by criticizing the detention of 1,200 foreign nationals, almost entirely Arab Muslims, whom he claims were denied basic rights such as habeas corpus in the wake of 9/11. In particular, Schulz cited the case of a Cheikh Melainine ould Belal, the 20-year old son of a Mauritanian diplomat who was detained a few days after September 11th, 2001. Even though he was unable to speak English, the FBI failed to provide a translator while shuffling him between detention centers, denying him access to both his family and a lawyer. After 40 days he was released without being charged with a crime, and having been found to have nothing to do with terrorism. “But he was deported,” said Schulz, “[and] the government had every right to deport him – he had overstayed his visa.” He then dryly noted that, “well, he overstayed his visa because he was left in FBI custody; but nonetheless, the government had every right to deport him.” The effect of these policies, Schulz claimed, is to inflame anti-American opinion throughout the world, as evidenced by Mr. ould Belal’s statement to the New York Times following his release: “I used to like the United States, now I don’t understand it. I used to want learn English. Now, I don’t want ever to hear English spoken again.”
In light of these alleged abuses, Schulz offered seven suggestions for those who wish to improve the state of human rights. First, he recommended that people learn to refute the “ticking bomb” argument for torture by demanding that proponents provide evidence that a policy of torture “has ever kept us safer,” and by asking for proof that “information obtained under torture is not in fact the most unreliable in the world.” Second, Schulz told the audience to remind American officials that “it is no longer unthinkable” that they “might well be accused of war crimes” after they leave office. Third, Schulz called for closing Guantanamo Bay, referring to it as an unflattering “symbol of American recalcitrance.” Fourth, he stressed the importance of reaching out to local Muslim communities, as had been done in the months following the 9/11 attacks. Fifth, he called for Congress to “monitor and enforce the McCain Anti-Torture Amendment,” particularly since when signing the bill President Bush issued a statement claiming the law would only be enforced to the extent that it is “consistent with his presidential authority” in war, which Schulz interpreted as “in other words, not at all.” Sixth, he called for outlawing the policy of “extraordinary renditions” of terrorist suspects to states known for torture. In his seventh point, Schulz encouraged members of both the military and religious communities to speak out against torture, stating, “if there is any issue that calls for moral outrage… it is this one.”
Following the speech was a candid question-and-answer session with Schulz, moderated by Dr. Neu. One question asked for his response to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismissing reports by Amnesty International critical of the United States, to which Schulz replied, “Rumsfeld was all too happy to cite Amnesty’s reports in the run up to the Iraq war… I think the world can tell who is a hypocrite and who is not.” Another asked if it wasn’t the people of the United States who were ultimately to blame for electing the politicians who allowed these abuses, to which Schulz bluntly replied, “Yes.”
The reaction to the speech by those in attendance was positive, with many praising Schulz’s ability to simply and powerfully deliver his message without being tedious. Diana Kutlow, a Program Officer for the Distinguished Lecture Series, described the Schulz speech as “one of the most popular… events in terms of attendance.” In addition to those watching in the theatre and on UCSD and USD television, Kutlow noted that overflow rooms were necessary to accommodate the approximately 550 people in attendance, including at least five USD classes and a large number of people from the community.