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"The Gulag of our Time"

9 June 2005

Over the past few weeks, the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay has once again been making headlines, and interestingly, in the states there are signs of a shifting attitude towards it's status  from both politicians and the media.

Last month, Newsweek's allegations of abuse of the Qur'an by US military within the camp sparked riots and death in Afghanistan, and the subsequent retraction of the story only added to the scandal. Closely following this, Amnesty International  released their annual report, in which the detention centre was branded "the gulag of our time", prompting a strong rebuke from the Bush administration. Finally, this week, came the call from Democrat Senator Joe Biden for the closure of Guantanamo.

On the same day, the New York Times ran an editorial "Un-American by Any Name" also calling for the camp to be closed. Amongst those joining the campaign for closure is ex-President Jimmy Carter, and this week the Washington Post reported that a recent poll indicated that for the first time since the war in Iraq began, over 50% of the public believed the conflict had not made Americans safer.

However, the tide has not totally turned against camp delta, as the Wall Street Journal review, and Amnesty's retraction of the "gulag" analogy testifies. There is also evidence that errors in reporting (such as the Newsweek debacle) is providing ammunition for the bush administration and its supporters.

Discussion in our morning meeting turned to questions over media responsibility and influence, a subject covered by the BBC’s John Simpson here . Godfrey Hodgson also has an interesting article on the effect of recent scandals and errors in reporting on the mainstream American media. He sees a mainstream media in retreat, and notes that just as in the political scene, the resurgent conservative right is using recent scandal to push the more liberal left into decline.

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