Last week, Amnesty International released a press statement urging the governments of Zambia, Tanzania, and Ethiopia to arrest former President George W. Bush during his visit to Africa. Bush was overseas to raise awareness of cervical and breast cancer. The press release states, “Amnesty International considers that there is enough evidence...to trigger requirements for Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zambia to investigate his alleged involvement in and responsibility for torture, and to secure his presence during the investigation.”
Amnesty International has long been a critic of the Bush administration’s torture policies and prisoner detention at Guantanamo Bay, and Amnesty’s call for arrest is not new; it sent out a similar request to the Canadian government when Bush traveled to that country in October 2011. But the new public affairs strategy of calling out nations to arrest Bush is not only unrealistic — none of these countries would ever seriously consider this option — but also unnecessary. Amnesty would be better served by pursuing legal options in the United States.
To Amnesty’s credit, the organization has a commendable record of standing firm on human rights issues regardless of politics. Amnesty believes that the U.S. government has repeatedly violated laws banning torture, and that “Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment must stop, and those responsible for authorizing and implementing it must be held accountable.” Even a former president of the U.S. is not immune to the law.
Amnesty called for Bush’s arrest overseas because the former president violated international laws that ban torture under the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention Against Torture. But Amnesty also claims that Bush violated U.S. law as well. Therefore there is no need to make bizarre press statements requesting that foreign governments with minimal resources arrest a former U.S. president who is traveling overseas on a humanitarian mission. Amnesty International can make a perfectly legitimate case against the Bush administration’s torture policies by pursuing legal penalties right here at home (granted that this is by no means a black and white case as Amnesty claims). Bush doesn’t need to travel overseas to be held accountable for his decision making.
Amnesty International does great work as an advocate of human rights around the world. But the recent press release has done the organization harm by creating a sensationalist press story that has drawn criticism and negative attention from many sectors of the media. Even people like me who agree with Amnesty’s criticism of Bush’s torture policies arrest see the press release as an unnecessary distraction.
The negative press does more harm than good. This case is just another example of good intentions gone bad. Yes, Amnesty has a point. But the problem is the method. Amnesty International stumbled on this one.
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