David E. Graham, UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER, March 14, 2006
Improving America’s image with Muslims around the globe would allow the United States to better fend off Islamic extremists and terrorism, the executive director of Amnesty International said during an appearance in San Diego.
Defending human rights and showing respect for Islam might make fewer people in Muslim countries sympathetic to the extreme voices of Osama bin Laden and others advocating terrorism, William Schultz said.
Schultz, who directs the human rights organization’s U.S. operations. said that although the Bush administration calls its military activities abroad a war for freedom and not against Islam, such actions as torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, detentions without charges for suspects at Guantanamo Bay and testing for dirty bombs outside mosques in the United States appear to target the religion.
“We play right into bin Laden’s hands,” Schultz said last week at the University of San Diego’s Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice.
He urged that the Guantanamo camps be closed, and he said Congress should monitor administration compliance with new anti-torture legislation and “insist on the enforcement of the law.”
He called for an international treaty on terrorism so nations could proceed in better agreement on the issue. He also called on military and religious groups to speak out against torture, and he urged all citizens to communicate with Muslims in their community.
Schultz’s suggestions came as he said the human rights movement has “failed to articulate a strategy” for keeping people safe and fighting terrorism. He said a balance between the need for security and liberty is a key issue in American politics.
A spokesman for the San Diego chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Edgar Hopida, who did not attend the talk, said in an interview that many mainstream Muslims are “gravely concerned” about some of the very actions that Schultz noted.
“They see it more as a war on Islam and Muslims in general,” Hopida said.
Schultz said that becoming “a model for human rights” would help restore America’s credibility and authority.
Amnesty International was founded in England in 1961. It investigates and lobbies against torture, illegal detentions and other human rights abuses, which usually occur at the hands of governments. Its recent reports include one criticizing torture in Iraq by Iraqi security forces and another on the shackling of female prisoners as they give birth in U.S. jails.