In this exhaustively researched history of the human-rights organization over the past four decades, a leading foreign affairs columnist, sharing his perceptive interviews with government officials, political prisoners, and activists, delves into the dirt of nations as diverse as Chile, Morocco, and the US.
According to Power’s friend Olusegun Obasanjo—who graduated from his status as one of Amnesty International’s most high-profile political prisoners to become president of Nigeria—the organization’s tactic of bombarding offending governments with letters is like “constant drips of water on stone. It seems to make little difference, but over time it does.” Power details Amnesty’s most momentous interventions, including the arrest of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, which warned other war criminals that they could be brought to international justice. He presents horrifying stories of Ugandan children who were abducted by a brutal combat group, the Lord’s Resistance Army, and forced to fight a war. Just as gruesome are tales of Bokassa, Emperor of the Central Republic of Africa, who was charged with cannibalism and the massacres of nearly a hundred children, and finally, when Amnesty pressured the French government, driven into exile. Despite his sympathy for Amnesty, Power reveals one of its biggest mistakes: lobbying for better prison conditions for Baader-Meinhof, a German gang that conducted acts of terrorism from behind bars. He condemns the governments of China and the US—for practicing capital punishment and condoning the dehumanizing conditions of prison systems, emphasizing George W. Bush’s days as governor of Texas, where 214 inmates have been executed since 1982. While China’s government acknowledges its brutalities, the Land of the Free remains hypocritical about its own.
A controversial yet solid report that should open eyes to human-rights violations throughout the world, sensitize Americans to their own country’s wrongdoings, and teach them what can be done on a grassroots level to bring such atrocities to an end.