As executive director of Amnesty International U.S.A., William Schultz struggled to focus the world’s attention on abuses in Africa, China, and the U.S. Just retired from that job to teach at the New School, he talked to Robert Levine.
Have things gotten better or worse since you started this job in 1994?
At the global level, there have been enormous positive developments—we have an international criminal court, and there are more democracies today. On the domestic level, it’s a very different situation.
An Amnesty report drew criticism for calling Guantánamo the gulag of our times. Was that an overstatement?
It certainly isn’t an exact metaphor. It’s accurate to say that there’s an archipelago of prisons, many secret, and people are disappearing into them. That’s exactly what happened in the gulag. Are they being starved to death? Not to our knowledge. But there are elements of the metaphor that have proven even more accurate in the last year.
Is it harder to get sympathy for suspected terrorists than, say, Soviet dissidents?
Yes. But George Bush has been one of Amnesty’s best recruiters.
Can torture ever be justified? What about the “ticking bomb” scenario?
It’s interesting that all those who defend torture in a case when they have ten minutes to save the lives of thousands of people can never point to a real-life case in which that happened. The reason for that is very simple: People who are tortured are unlikely to give accurate information.
Do you ever favor military intervention?
Personally, I believe that in the face of genocide or massive crimes against humanity military action is not only appropriate but imperative.
What about in Iraq?
No one who cares about human rights can weep over the fact that Hussein is not in power. But we can certainly weep about the way that happened, and the consequences.
What should we be doing about Sudan?
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