My morning with Amnesty International

My masochistic streak was itching this morning, so I decided to take a wander over to Amnesty International, and see how they were doing. Human Rights Watch actually did something useful this week, so I figured maybe we could be on a roll.
So what’s their top story on Iraq?
Iraq: Use of cluster bombs – civilians pay the price
Amnesty International is deeply concerned about the high toll of civilian casualties and the use of cluster bombs in US military attacks in heavily populated areas.
On 1 April, at least 33 civilians including many children were reportedly killed and around 300 injured in US attacks on the town of al-Hilla. Amnesty International is particularly disturbed by reports that cluster bombs were used in the attacks and may have been responsible for some of the civilian deaths.
“The use of cluster bombs in an attack on a civilian area of al-Hilla constitutes an indiscriminate attack and a grave violation of international humanitarian law,” Amnesty International emphasized today.
“If the US is serious about protecting civilians, it must publicly commit to a moratorium on the use of cluster weapons. Using cluster munitions will lead to indiscriminate killing and injuring of civilians,” the organization added.
According to reports, the type of cluster bomblets used in al-Hilla was BLU97 A/B. Each cannister contains 202 small bomblets — BLU97 — the size of a soft drink can. These cluster bomblets scatter over a large area approximately the size of two football fields. At least 5% of these ‘dud’ bomblets do not explode upon impact, turning them into de facto anti-personnel mines because they continue to pose a threat to people, including civilians, who come into contact with them.

Sigh. OK, let’s be clear: I have no idea whether the story above is true. I have no idea whether or not the U.S. military is utilizing cluster bombs in Iraq (but I’ll bet somebody reading this does — chime in anytime). But wow, talk about lack of sourcing! “According to reports” is the closest we get to understanding where these alleged facts come from — and that’s it! I’m not even asking for a hyperlink here — although I would remind Amnesty that it is 2003, they might want to learn how to do that — but perhaps attributing allegations like this to, well, somebody might help readers make a judgement? It would be petty to note that perhaps AI isn’t interested in their readers actually making any judgements at all — other than to simply nod their heads vigorously, murmoring “the horror of it!” on cue.
But not to be discouraged so easily, I clicked on the Act Now link for this story, and received:
Take action!
Please email or write to the defence ministries of the US, UK, Australia, Spain and Iraq using the sample letter below as a guide. You may also send appeals to your own government representatives if they are taking part or considering taking part in military action.
Please also write letters to the newspapers and other media in your country using the information contained in this action.

And was provided a nice form letter, as follows:
Dear
I am writing to you as reports emerge of cluster bomb and anti-personnel landmine use in Iraq to express my concern at the potential use of indiscriminate weapons that may not sufficiently distinguish between military and civilian targets and which will thus contravene customary international humanitarian law.
I urge you not to use weapons that are inherently indiscriminate. By their very nature anti-personnel landmines and chemical or biological weapons cannot be used in a manner which does not violate the principle of distinction between civilian and military target.
Although cluster bombs are designed to be targeted at military objectives, the fact that five per cent and sometimes a much greater proportion fail to explode on impact means that unexploded bomblets are left behind on the ground. They can then be triggered by civilian victims, functioning in exactly the same way as anti-personnel mines, which have been banned by the 1997 Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty.
If the US is serious about protecting civilians, it must publicly commit to a moratorium on the use of cluster weapons. Using cluster munitions will lead to indiscriminate killing and injuring of civilians.
Long-range missiles that are inaccurate, such as long range Scuds, should not be used. Nor should aerial bombing from altitudes of above 15,000 feet, since recent experience in Kosovo has shown that this does not allow for full adherence to international humanitarian law requiring parties to make every effort to distinguish civilians from military targets.
Given the continuing reports of long-term health and environmental damage that may be caused by depleted uranium, the use of uranium-tipped weapons should be suspended pending further independent medical evidence showing that these weapons do not have delayed indiscriminate effects.
Yours sincerely,

Whoah! Now I understand what they’re trying to do here: craft a letter that can be sent to all parties in the conflict. But it tends to mangle the facts and accusations all together a bit, doesn’t it? I mean, I was worried about those little cluster-bomby things, I hear they’re all evil and stuff, but what’s this about land mines? The U.S. Army is laying mines! The bastards! And chemical weapons? I knew they were hypocrities! Oh, wait, that was Iraq? Was it? Huh?
But the final kicker comes when you click on the link to “view the list of addresses to use for this action”. Groups like Amnesty always want to make it as easy as possible for folks to send their messages, so naturally they provide the addresses. Five nations are listed — Australia, Iraq, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Every one of them has a simple, explicit, easy-to-use address: except one.
Guess which one.
Bing. Iraq! Amnesty advises:
Letters addressed to President Saddam Hussein should be sent directly to the Iraqi embassy in your country. If there is no Iraqi embassy in your country then you can send appeals to your country’s Interests Section for Iraq. If so, please enclose a covering letter explaining your aims, asking them for assistance in obtaining a response, and requesting that your letter be forwarded to government officials in Baghdad.
Oh, that will help. Amnesty is a master at these campaigns, so I’ll bet they actually have statistics that could tell us exactly what percentage of people will take the effort to hunt down an embassy address like that as opposed to just mailing a letter when they are given the address explicitly. But I’ll bet there’s a big difference!
Just a suggestion, kids, but maybe you could have put the three addresses for U.S., U.K., and Australian citizens to use? This is your English-language site, after all.
Anyway, thus ends my brief foray into human rights activism. I emerge more baffled than I began; my head filled with visions of chemical cluster bombs and Spanish land mines. But perhaps that was the idea all along…