Commentary: Obama builds on Bush's AIDS project

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramDecember 6, 2011 

World AIDS Day, on Dec. 1, was truly remarkable this year for several reasons -- mostly good, but at least one bad thing.

It was the day George W. Bush returned to Africa, a continent that benefited greatly from his unprecedented HIV/AIDS initiative; President Barack Obama committed to a major increase in funding for treatment of HIV here at home; and Magic Johnson included Tarrant County's AIDS Outreach Center as a partner in opening a new AIDS health clinic in Fort Worth.

That's the good news.

But also on that day, in a bizarre act that had nothing to do with HIV/AIDS, the world's largest human rights organization made a complete fool of itself by calling for Bush's arrest.

I have given much praise to the former president for his bold efforts in 2003 in creating the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a $15 billion plan to provide treatment and prevention programs in countries hit hardest by the AIDS epidemic. Five years later, Congress increased the funding to $48 billion over a five-year period.

Obama's announced proposals build on what Bush started, and the president was right to credit his predecessor for what has turned out to be a very successful project.

"History will record the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief as an extraordinary legacy," Obama said of Bush's efforts. "That program -- more ambitious than even leading advocates thought was possible at the time -- has saved thousands and thousands and thousands of lives, spurred international action and laid the foundation for a comprehensive global plan that will impact the lives of millions."

The president went on to pledge an additional $50 million for HIV treatment in this country, noting that there are 1.2 million Americans living with HIV today. He also called for boosting U.S. support to millions of sufferers in other countries by providing even greater access to anti-retroviral drugs.

The national and international news of the day was great, but former basketball player Johnson and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation brought the issue closer to home by announcing that the AIDS Outreach Center here was one of three in the country they would support with new clinics.

The center, founded in 1986, has long wanted to provide medical services, and this new partnership will provide a resident doctor and an in-house pharmacy and offer ambulatory care for patients. This is great news for an organization that has served this community well but has had financial difficulties in recent years.

Now to that crazy World AIDS Day announcement, which I suppose was meant to embarrass former President Bush and distract him while he and his wife, Laura, were on a three-nation trip in Africa to raise awareness about cervical and breast cancer.

Amnesty International issued a call to Tanzania, Zambia and Ethiopia to arrest Bush and detain him while he is investigated for his role in waterboarding terrorist suspects between 2001 and 2009.

I have been a supporter of Amnesty International, particularly in its monitoring of, and fighting against, the death penalty. I am most disappointed, however, with this latest gimmick that undermines the organization's credibility, gives ammunition to its many enemies and diverts attention from its more noble missions.

Admittedly, I am a critic of the torture techniques used in questioning detainees in America's war on terror, but it is absurd to call for the arrest of a former American president and suggest that he be tried for war crimes.

Amnesty International, which is known for being able to grab headlines, embarrassed itself with such an outrageous stunt and, for its own good, ought to quickly back away from this ridiculous statement.

On a day when the world had so much good news to celebrate, an otherwise worthy organization found a way to mar it.

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