Amnesty International (A.I.) Secretary-General Claudio Cordone has come under fire for defending jihad when it occurs in "self-defense" — a position many other human rights advocates believe "would gravely undermine the future of the human rights movement."
Cordone's comments came in response to a Feb. 13 "global petition" to A.I. by human rights and women's rights advocates protesting the suspension of Gita Sahgal, a senior A.I. official in London.
Sahgal was suspended after the Sunday Times of London reported that she believed Amnesty's collaboration with former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg "fundamentally damages" the group's reputation.
In a letter sent to senior A.I. officials, Sahgal charged that Amnesty has mistakenly aligned itself with Begg and his organization Cageprisoners Ltd., which calls itself a human rights organization working to "raise awareness of the plight of prisoners" held in the war on terror.
According to the Sunday Times, the prisoners it championed have included "Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and Abu Qatada, a preacher described as Osama bin Laden's 'European ambassador.'"
Begg and Cageprisoners are also reported to have developed a relationship with Anwar al-Awlaki, the al-Qaida cleric who endorsed the failed Christmas Day plane bombing near Detroit and who became a confidant of Nidal Malik Hasan, charged with carrying out the Nov. 5 Fort Hood massacre.
In the global petition sent to A.I., the coalition of liberal human rights advocates criticized what they called "U.S./NATO imperialism." But the bulk of the letter consisted of criticism of Sahgal's suspension and warnings about the pitfalls of negotiating with the Taliban and trying to advance human rights by working with "anti-democratic" groups.
On Feb. 28, Cordone responded with a letter defending A.I.'s work with Begg and Cageprisoners. Begg "speaks powerfully from personal experience" about the abuses at the U.S.-operated Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, Cordone wrote, and advocates detainees' due process rights within "the same framework of universal human rights standards that we are promoting."
Cordone added that Begg and Cageprisoners' advocacy of "jihad in self-defence" is not antithetical to human rights and that Begg is the victim of "many distortions, innuendoes and 'guilt by association'" charges.
In response, the initiators of the global petition expressed dismay about Amnesty's endorsement of a "defensive" jihad. They noted that such a call "is a thread running through many fundamentalist and specifically 'salafi-jihadi' texts. It is mentioned by Abdullah Azzam, mentor of Osama bin Laden, and founder of Lashkar e Tayyaba. It is the argument of 'defensive jihad' that the Taliban uses to legitimize its anti-human rights actions such as the beheading of dissidents, including members of minority communities, and the public lashing of women."
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