The response of web-scooper Matt Drudge to the photos documenting American abuse of Iraqi prisoners-of-war at Abu Ghraib prison exemplifies the ethical deficit so prominently displayed by many media pundits in their commentary on this tragic story. His web site, the Drudge Report, displayed the headline “FLASHBACK PHOTO: WHAT IRAQIS DID TO USA SOLDIERS…” with a link to a photograph of dead GIs. The intended message: our condemnation of the torturing of the Iraqis should be tempered by considerations of revenge, tit-for-tat and justice. It says that these prisoners are only getting what they deserve. Drudge’s sentiment is being echoed elsewhere, notably among some of the conservative radio talk show crowd. (Notable exception: Laura Ingraham.)
This argument indelibly marks the source as ethically irresponsible. It would not make one whit of difference if Iraqis flayed Americans, roasted them on a spit and ate them while dancing the Macarena: the ethical and moral standards of decency and fairness towards prisoners would remain unchanged. We can be certain, now, that if Matt Drudge were on duty in Saddam’s old prison, he would be joining in the criminal abuse. It’s good to know; we can assess his future credibility accordingly. Terrible conduct by others, in warfare or not, never changes the ethical values or one’s obligation to observe them.
Most school children have heard the maxim “Two wrongs never make a right” by the time they have entered the third grade. Sadly, there are too many like Matt Drudge who never accept or believe it. Such people should not have any credibility as apologists for the Abu Ghraib war criminals, for they are their clones, unable to tell right from wrong.