Yes, words DO have meaning

This is a big pet peeve of mine: changing the meaning of a word via faulty comparisons so much that the true meaning of the word gets diluted. An example, to me, would be of comparisons of Bush or Clinton to Hitler. Neither are remotely close the being like the worst dictator we’ve seen in modern history. Yet people on both sides of the aisle still routinely make the claim.

Another term thrown out there recently who’s meaning is becoming diluted in nature is the term “gulag” as applied to Guantanamo Bay, the ‘infamous’ US prison for some 540 detained suspected terrorists. This term was used recently by Amnesty International’s secretary general, Irene Khan, to describe what AI feels is happening there. William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty USA, who – among other top brass at AI – supports Democrats, was recently interviewed by Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. Howard Kurtz from the Washington post describes it with a brief transcript:

The substantive debate over the conditions at Gitmo and elsewhere, the treatment of the Koran and the use of interrogations techniques that approach torture is an important one to have, for it shows that Americans are willing to confront flaws in our system. But now the argument seems to be about an inflammatory word that conjures up a very different political system.

In short, if you’re going to toss a loaded grenade of a word like gulag, you’d better be able to back it up:

Which is why the “Fox News Sunday” interview of Amnesty’s U.S. chief, William Schulz, was quite revealing.

CHRIS WALLACE: Mr. Schulz, the Soviet gulag was a system of slave labor camps that went on for more than 30 years. More than 1.6 million deaths were documented. Whatever has happened at Guantanamo, do you stand by the comparison to the Soviet gulag?

SCHULZ: Well, Chris, clearly this is not an exact or a literal analogy. And the secretary general has acknowledged that. There’s no question. . . . In size and in duration, there are not similarities between U.S. detention facilities and the gulag. People are not being starved in those facilities. They’re not being subjected to forced labor. But there are some similarities. The United States is maintaining an archipelago of prisons around the world, many of them secret prisons into which people are being literally disappeared — held in indefinite incommunicado detention without access to lawyers or a judicial system or to their families. And in some cases, at least, we know that they are being mistreated, abused, tortured and even killed. . . .

WALLACE: Is it possible, sir, that by excessive rhetoric or by your political links, that you have hurt, not helped, your cause?

SCHULZ: Chris, I don’t think I’d be on this station, on this program today with you if Amnesty hadn’t said what it said and President Bush and his colleagues haven’t responded as they did. If I had come to you two weeks ago and said, “Chris, I’d like to go on FOX with you just to talk about U.S. detention policies at Guantanamo and elsewhere,” I suspect you wouldn’t have given me an invitation.

WALLACE: So you’re saying if you make irresponsible charges, that’s good for the cause?

SCHULZ: I don’t believe that they’re irresponsible.

Excuse me, but did Schulz say that it’s okay to unleash words like “gulag,” even if it’s not an “exact or literal analogy,” because it gets him booked on Fox News? Is that the new standard? Yes, Chris, I called the president a war criminal because it was the only way I could get on Hardball?

There ye have it, folks. Show him da money!

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