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Moral Imperative
By Amy M. Braverman
Photography by Jason Smith

For William F. Schulz, AM’74, the United States has violated too many rights since 9/11—and human-rights advocates should offer more alternatives.

IMAGE:  William F. Schulz, AM'74In a September 2003 episode of HBO’s recently canceled, pseudo-reality series K Street, real-life Amnesty International staff members march outside the Washington office of the make-believe lobbying/consulting firm at the show’s center, chanting: “Yes to Saudi women! No to Bergstrom Lowell!” Later James Carville defends his firm, which represents a Saudi Arabian organization, in a meeting with two powerful politicos—California Senator Barbara Boxer and Amnesty International USA Executive Director William F. Schulz. Schulz, AM’74, argues that Saudi Arabia practices “gender apartheid.”

Since he joined the U.S. branch of Amnesty International (AI) in 1994, Schulz has tried to build on the human-rights group’s pop-culture visibility, placing logoed coffee cups, posters, and T-shirts on ER, Sopranos, and West Wing; recruiting Hollywood supporters such as Patrick Stewart, Richard Gere, and Harrison Ford to lend their names and voices; and showing his own bearded face on TV. In addition to K Street, Schulz has sparred on the talk shows Politically Incorrect, Hannity & Colmes, and O’Reilly Factor. The liberal Democrat enjoys the give-and-take of such programs, debating pundits of opposite political persuasions on Iraq, the death penalty, and the international criminal court. Besides indulging his love of debate, he appears on the shows to remind donors of AI’s work and because in the current “neoconservative, unilateralist, imperialist” political climate, he says, “it’s important not to be ashamed or hesitant to speak out for progressive views.”

Hesitant he isn’t. When his book Tainted Legacy: 9/11 and the Ruin of Human Rights (Nation Books, 2003) came out in October, Schulz jumped on the lecture circuit, orating in New York, where he lives and works; DC, where many of AI USA’s 160 employees work; and 17 other U.S. cities (plus Galway, Ireland) over three months. He frames his human-rights discussions “not just in moral terms or as international law,” he explains, but also “in terms of American political traditions” such as the right to an attorney, the right to due process, the right of a prisoner not to be mistreated. If the United States violates such fundamental rights, he argues, it damages its own national interest, making the country that defends human rights far away appear hypocritical. While Amnesty International took no official position on the recent Iraq war, and personally, Schulz believes, “anyone who cares about human rights would rejoice at the fall of Saddam Hussein,” he criticizes the Bush administration for failing to take a multilateral approach or to consider international opinion: “The whole of human rights rests on respect for the United Nations and the international community.”

It’s a message he brings to each of his book talks. On an October morning in Washington, at the Woman’s National Democratic Club near Dupont Circle, 54-year-old Schulz, in a three-piece suit, schmoozes with white-haired ladies in pastel ensembles, sitting on the mansion’s gold-lacquered chairs. After lunch he takes the podium, joking that he discusses his new book as often as possible so he doesn’t face the fate of Henry David Thoreau, whose publisher returned to him 700 of the 1,000 printed copies of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. That night Thoreau wrote in his diary, “I have a library of 900 volumes, 700 of which I wrote myself.” The women laugh loudly. A few witticisms later Schulz is on to the more serious business of Amnesty International’s mission to address grave world troubles. He sketches those troubles in exceedingly human terms: a nine-year-old Indian boy “sold into slavery by his parents at age three to weave carpets, his left eye gouged out by a factory foreman when he failed to weave them fast enough.” Or the “15- and 16-year-old Tibetan nuns and monks whom the Chinese imprison for no other crime than peacefully advocating independence for Tibet, and then to whom electric-shock weapons are applied to the most sensitive parts of their bodies.” Or the young Nigerian Amina Lawal, “sentenced recently to be buried up to her head in sand and then stoned to death for bearing a child out of wedlock. But fortunately,” Schulz says, “thanks to Amnesty International and millions of others around the world” who protested on her behalf, Lawal’s sentence was overturned.

It’s often difficult, Schulz admits, to convince Americans that human-rights abuses halfway around the globe affect their own lives. The conditions in Russian prisons, he explains by way of example, have created hardships far beyond those cell walls. He quotes Sir Nigel Rodley, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture: “When you open the door of a Russian prison cell, you are met with a blast of hot, dark, stinking gas that passes for air.” Such “neglect of the fundamental human right of a basic level of health care,” Schulz continues, has helped to foster an untreatable strain of tuberculosis, which trade and travel eventually brought to the United States. “Human-rights respecting democracies are far more likely to settle their disputes peacefully, far more likely to abide by their international agreements,” he notes. “Democracy really does have much to do with our own welfare, not just here in the United States but far, far away, and of course we all learned that profoundly and achingly on September 11.”

Which brings him to his latest book, Tainted Legacy, in which he tries to “find the right balance between the right to security on one hand and our right to liberty on the other” in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks. Schulz learned early on that moral ideals can conflict. As a 14-year-old in Pittsburgh, he was attracted briefly to a movement called Moral Rearmament (he didn’t know then that its founder, Frank Buckman, had aligned himself with Adolf Hitler). The movement taught four virtues, each to be practiced without compromise: absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness, and absolute love. A few days into his new code, however, he realized that absolute honesty could conflict with absolute love, such as when a relative with bad breath came in for a kiss. “What was I to do?” he asks, “the loving thing and pucker up and forget it, or the honest thing and recommend a course of treatment?” His natural, “impure” adolescent thoughts also clashed with honesty. Could he truly vanquish such thoughts? He soon dropped Moral Rearmament, having learned that “a set of injunctions, all of which are to be enforced in equal measure, are bound to get in each other’s way.”

Similarly, the United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Schulz calls “the premier articulation of every right that you and I can claim as human beings,” contains 40 articles, which at times conflict. Article 3, for example, states, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.” Being safe from terrorism, in other words, is a fundamental right. To protect that right, Schulz says, the U.S. government “has contended that in some cases we must allow the violation of liberties such as the right to a fair and open hearing if you are charged with a crime.” The Universal Declaration itself suggests that suspensions or modifications of certain rights may be permissible to maintain the public order and general welfare. But how many rights should be limited? For the government, Schulz says, the answer is “quite a few—indeed, many,” while human-rights advocates believe it’s “very, very few.” Neither side, he argues, is completely correct. The government “has not stopped to consider the full implications of the compromise of human rights, not least of all the implications for the success of the war on terror. And we in the human-rights community,” he continues, “have been equally at fault, for we have not provided an adequate strategy for fighting terrorism—for indeed respecting the right to be safe and secure—while still maintaining optimal respect for all the other human rights we may claim.”

Shortly after September 11, Schulz recounts, the FBI arrested the 20-year-old son of a Mauritanian diplomat, a native French speaker named Cheikh Melainine ould Belal visiting relatives in Kentucky. For 40 days ould Belal, with no translator, was “shuffled between detention centers” in Kentucky, Louisiana, and Ohio, denied access to a lawyer and his family, and then released without being told why he was detained and without being charged. Soon afterward he was deported. Before leaving he told a New York Times reporter: “I used to like the United States. Now I don’t understand it. I was going to learn English, but now I don’t want to ever speak it again.” Ould Belal, Schulz says, “was typical of some 1,200 foreign nationals, virtually all of them Muslim, taken into custody in the weeks following 9/11, and typical of the 5,000 or 6,000 more who have been interrogated, detained, or at least registered since then”—almost none charged with a terrorism-related crime. “Are we safer for having treated Muslim residents in these ways? Or is alienating people who had previously looked upon the United States with admiration and respect…a surefire way to make the world more dangerous?”

Besides military action, the war on terrorism involves bringing allies to the U.S. side and convincing less extremist Arab nations that terrorism is not the answer to vast poverty and unemployment. The best way to win over the “undecideds,” Schulz argues, is to “be a champion of the end of Arab autocracy, a champion of democracy around the world,” and “to be a model of respect for human rights here at home.” But, he says, “every time we cozy up to the Saudi royal family, or every time we overlook Egyptian President [Mohamed Hosni] Mubarak’s oppressive ways, or every time we allow the Chinese to get away with persecuting weaker Muslims in the western provinces in the name of fighting terrorism, we put the lie to President Bush’s contention that the war on terror is being fought in defense of freedom and in defense of respect for the rule of law.” And when the government violates human rights in the United States, “we make it harder for moderate Muslims—to say nothing of our European allies—to stand with us.” Yet such violations, Schulz contends, were rampant after September 11. He provides multiple examples: detaining the Guantanamo Bay prisoners without a fair trial; holding U.S. citizens Jose Padilla and Yaser Hamdi without disclosing charges against them or granting them access to lawyers; refusing to let accused Al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui question “the one man who might exonerate him” (an issue still pending in the courts); requiring foreign students to register, based on their ethnicity, with immigration officials (a practice recently suspended); seeking U.S. residents’ medical records, e-mail messages, Internet passwords, and religious and political contributions without obtaining subpoenas; and, as New York Times and Washington Post reports have alleged, torturing prisoners in Afghanistan.

These rights violations, Schulz says, “hand fodder on a silver platter to our adversaries. They sacrifice any chance to gain the sympathy” of the “millions and millions of people who are undecided about us, undecided about whether to opt for terrorism or not. And in the the long run they make not for a safer world but a more frightening one.” The United States, Schulz concedes, may need to curtail some rights to live more safely, at least for a time. National identification cards or increased camera surveillance in public places, he suggests, may be necessary compromises. But certain rights—to due process, to a lawyer, to humane treatment—are, he argues, in fact instruments against terrorism, not to be forsaken. To defend the United States and what it stands for, the government must protect the rights that make it worth guarding in the first place.

IMAGE:  William F. Schulz, AM'74Schulz seems to have always had a moralist bent. After experimenting with Moral Rearmament, in his late teens and early 20s he was deeply conscious of the Vietnam War—human-rights abuses overseas and tapped phones, stolen documents, and peaceful protests turned violent at home. His father, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, and his stay-at-home mother raised Schulz, an only child, in the Unitarian church, which merged with the Universalist church in 1961. The Unitarian Universalists teach “respect for all individuals,” Schulz says, “that individuals are global citizens, that religious commitments exceed the boundaries of any nation.” The self-described liberal denomination has a long social-justice tradition, seeking insights not only from Christianity but also from other religions and the secular world. Schulz embraced such spiritual intellectualism, studying sociology at Oberlin College and considering the ministry. As a student minister at Kent, Ohio’s Unitarian Universalist church in 1970–71, he drove an hour from Oberlin to Kent once or twice a week. When he heard in May 1970 that four Kent State student protesters had been shot dead by national guardsmen, he drove there immediately. The local city council, trying to prevent a memorial service, outlawed public gatherings of more than three people. Schulz’s church defied the new law, holding a service anyway. A few dozen people attended, as he recalls, “but it was the symbolism that counted more than the numbers.” The entire experience, he says, “was such a dramatic example of how a state or government can turn on its own citizens.”

In fall 1971 he came to Hyde Park, home to one of three Unitarian Universalist seminaries in the country. He was attracted to the Meadville Lombard Theological School’s history of supporting humanist ministers and the opportunity to study at the University. In addition to his U of C master’s in philosophy, he earned two degrees—a master’s in theology and a doctorate of ministry—from Meadville Lombard. (He recently revised his doctoral dissertation, Making the Manifesto: The Birth of Religious Humanism, published by Skinner House Press in 2002.) In August 1975 he moved to Bedford, Massachusetts, to be a parish minister. There he met his first wife, Linda Lu, who already had two children whom Schulz helped to raise (he remains close to them and his step-grandchildren).

Two-and-a-half years later he joined the Boston-based Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), reviving its social-justice program, which a few years prior had been cut back because of financial restraints. Schulz encouraged UUA members who wanted to work for “abortion rights, corporate responsibility, the rights of indigenous people, economic justice, or whatever,” he says. He led demonstrations in Washington and spoke at rallies, stockholder meetings, and hearings on issues the UUA had adopted, such as capital punishment, civil liberties, religious freedom, and the separation of church and state. He then became UUA’s executive vice president, and in 1985 he was elected president. In 1992 he and Lu divorced, and the next year he married Beth Graham, a fellow Unitarian Universalist minister who leads a Long Island congregation.

The UUA presidency is term-limited, so when his two four-year stints were up in 1993 Schulz considered returning to a parish or taking a nonprofit job. A Unitarian Universalist friend on Amnesty International USA’s executive director search committee suggested Schulz submit his name. “Amnesty was looking for someone who had both been involved in social-justice work and knew how to run a good-sized, national nonprofit,” Schulz says. “I was fortunate enough to be selected.”

For both the UUA and Amnesty International, he has traveled on human-rights missions to the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Africa. In Tunisia the government trailed him, in Transylvania his hotel room was bugged, but only in Liberia did he receive a death threat. It was 1997. After a devastating civil war there, presidential elections were about to be held. The Liberian citizens, Schulz says, were “very afraid” of Charles Taylor (the president exiled in 2003), who had launched a rebellion in 1989. If they didn’t elect him, they feared, “he would simply recommence the civil war and shoot his way into power. He had promised to do exactly that.” Schulz visited prisons and met with warlords. The day after he left, a woman working for Taylor told Schulz’s colleagues still in the country: “Mr. Taylor is very concerned for Dr. Schulz’s health. Tell him that he will be booked with a bullet if he ever returns to Liberia, and he should keep an eye on his back in New York.” Nothing ever came of the threat.

But most of his ten-year Amnesty work, rather than exotic, potentially dangerous travels, has been public engagements—speaking at 15 or 20 colleges a year, for example—and fund-raising—during his tenure AI USA’s endowment has grown from $3.5 million to $25 million. Most of the buedget funds Amnesty research and campaigns, sending missions to more than 100 countries a year, supporting and training activists, organizing to pressure governments, and publicizing human-rights abuses. Schulz has the publicizing front covered. In June 2002 the New York Review of Books wrote that he “has done more than anyone in the American human rights movement to make human rights issues known in the United States.” He plans to leave Amnesty International in 2006, though he hasn’t yet decided his next move. By then, he notes, he will have been managing nonprofit institutions and traveling 60 or 70 percent of his time for 28 years. “That is simply enough,” he says. “It is time for me to take on new challenges, whatever they may be,” and time for Amnesty “to receive new leadership, to benefit from new energy and new ideas.”

Meanwhile he’s hawking his book—and his ideals. In November he returned to the U of C, which had given him a public-service award in June, and Meadville-Lombard, which gave him a 1985 honorary doctorate and whose 2000–02 board he chaired, for the installation of the school’s new president, Lee Charles Barker, AM’76, who studied there with Schulz. While in town he talked up Tainted Legacy at a Unitarian Universalist church in Deerfield, IL. The next week he appeared on Dublin’s equivalent of the Today show, and shortly thereafter he battled Bill O’Reilly on Fox News Channel. To keep up such a pace, Schultz’s successor as AI USA’s executive director had better not be camera shy.


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