WASHINGTON – The American head of Amnesty International admits his group did not pick the best analogy when it compared detainee conditions at Guantanamo Bay (search) to the Soviet-era "gulag" forced-labor system.
"There are only about 70,000 in U.S. detention facilities, and to the best of our knowledge, they are not in forced labor, they are not being denied food. But there are some analogies between the gulags and our detention facilities," William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said in an interview with FOX News.
"The U.S. is running an archipelago of detention facilities — many of them secret facilities — around the world and people in those are being disappeared into them … they are being held incommunicado."
Cilck on the video box to the right for a report by FOX News' Mike Emanuel.
Amnesty International (search) recently slammed the United States' treatment of terror suspects at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba. In its latest worldwide report, Amnesty International angered many U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, with its gulag analogy. President Bush called claims of improper detainee treatment "absurd."
"It's an absurd allegation," Bush said in the White House Rose Garden this week. "The United States is a country that ... promotes freedom around the world. When there's accusations made about certain actions by our people, they're fully investigated in a transparent way. It's just an absurd allegation."
Bush said "every single complaint" regarding those detained is investigated.
"It seemed like to me they [Amnesty International] based some of their decisions on the word of — and the allegations — by people who were held in detention, people who hate America, people that had been trained in some instances to disassemble — that means not tell the truth," the president added. "And so it was an absurd report. It just is."
While U.S. officials admit there have been sporadic cases of questionable treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, they say it's not at all widespread or of the magnitude Amnesty International claims. To refute that, Amnesty International on Thursday said officials should just open the doors of the detention center to humanitarian workers so they can see for themselves.
During a press briefing this week, Rumsfeld noted that most would define a "gulag" as where the Soviet Union kept millions of forced labor concentration camps "or where Saddam Hussein mutilated and murdered untold numbers because they held views unacceptable to his regime."
"To compare the United States and Guantanamo Bay (search) to such atrocities cannot be excused," he said. "Free societies depend on oversight and they welcome informed criticism, particularly on human rights issues. But those who make such outlandish charges lose any claim to objectivity or seriousness."
He added that "no force in the world has done more to liberate people ... than the men and women of the United States military" and called Amnesty International's allegations "reprehensible."
A former Soviet prisoner who is a well-known human rights activist says comparing Gitmo to a Soviet gulag is off base.
"In Guantanamo Bay, there was a very serious violation of human rights and it's very important to deal with this and to correct it," said Natan Sharansky (search), a former Soviet dissident and political prisoner who was a prominent member of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's cabinet until May 2. "But the comparison of Amnesty International is very typical, unfortunately, for this organization, which has no moral clarity."
Sharansky argued that Amnesty International compromises its work by refusing to differentiate "between democracies where there are sometimes serious violations of human rights and dictatorships where no human rights exist at all."
"This comparison between gulag and Soviet Union and United States of America, erases all these differences," he said. "It makes moral equivalence between these two very different worlds and that's unfortunately very a typical, systematical, mistake of Amnesty International."
To that end, Schulz said his group has no favorites and they are "equal opportunity offenders."
"We do our best within the limits of human fallibility," he said. "To apply one universal standard -- one plumline to every society -- to China and to the U.S. to Israel and to Cuba, to Afghanistan and Zimbabwe."
But Amnesty International critics say that may be part of the problem.
They point out that the group's international report has multiple pages criticizing Israel and milder critique of the Palestinian Authority. Meanwhile, the report devotes a similar amount of space to the slaughter in Sudan as it does poor treatment by police officers in Switzerland.
Human rights expert Anthony Arend from Georgetown University said calling Guantanamo Bay a 'gulag' prevents people from focusing on real abuses in the world.
"That's why I think Amnesty needs to get out on top of it to clarify what the report really says and to note that the use of the 'gulag' phrase was an unfortunate phrase, it's the wrong phrase, it's the incorrect phrase, and did not accurately categorize what the U.S. is doing," Arend said.
While Arend said dismissing Amnesty International's work is the wrong thing to do, he said he can see where the use of the term, 'gulag' would lead people to draw that conclusion.