Topic: Society

No American Torturers (continued)

Excuse the cynicism, but it sometimes appears that conservative pundits are more angered that revelations of American atrocities against Iraqi prisoners are providing ammunition to critics of the Bush administration than they are at the atrocities themselves.

Sean Hannity started a chorus that eventually included Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh and others when he launched into a rant about how the furor was “out of proportion” and “without perspective.” The argument: the distasteful acts of a handful of American soldiers are dwarfed in comparison to the sacrifices of the 700 dead and approximately 3,000 wounded G.I.s as 130,000 American troops try to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq. Heartily endorsing President Bush’s decision not to apologize to the Arab world in his interviews with Arab media, Hannity declared defiantly, “We have nothing to apologize for!” Ingraham, in her own rant on her syndicated radio show, invoked Kuwait, World War II and World War I as she maintained that Democratic criticism and the press “feeding frenzy” over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison simply “gives the enemies of America a club to beat us with.”

Let us withdraw from this issue for a moment and recall another: sexual abuse of innocents by priests in the Catholic Church. Subsequent investigations showed that approximately 2% of the Catholic clergy engaged in these horrendous acts. Do Hannity and Ingraham really find it hard to understand why their actions implicated, disgraced, and wounded the entire Catholic Church world wide? The Catholic Church stands for ideals; it exists to do good. Because of this mission, people trusts the Church’s representatives. When even a small percentage of priests to betray those ideals, the justification for that trust is called into questionÂ…must be called into question. Entrusting an institution with the welfare of a child is ultimate trust, and ultimate trust requires ultimate responsibility. Some of the Church’s early defenders, such as former Vatican ambassador Ray Flynn, attempted the “proportion” argument that the radio right is attempting now. But as it became clear that the 2% of “bad apples” in the priesthood were abetted and nourished by the culture of the Church, a breakdown in discipline, organizational corruption, tunnel-vision, negligence and arrogance, all of which involved far more than just 2% of the institution, that argument sounded naïve and obtuse.

And it was.

It remains so when applied to the Abu Ghraib atrocities. It is precisely because of WW I, WW II, and Kuwait, among other historical accomplishments, that America can even make the argument that it is in Iraq, not as a conqueror, but as a liberator. America has traditionally assumed the burdensome, challenging, and relentlessly difficult role of the world’s hero. For the very reason that America’s professed ideals are unique to the world and therefore always hovering on the edge of skepticism (even within our own borders), our nation must accept the obligation to adhere to an extraordinarily high, perhaps impossibly high, standard of conduct. All US soldiers who go into a foreign country in an official capacity carry the ideals, prestige, integrity, and credibility of America with them. They have the power to degrade the good will accumulated over two centuries, and those in our government who oversee their conduct must know this. Our leaders have what the law calls “strict liability” in such situations. They have sent individuals with weapons into another sovereign nation. They are ethically obligated to make 100% certain that these individuals understand their duties and the values they must uphold, and the leaders are absolutely liable, no excuses accepted, if failure to convey those duties and values results in harm to others. As it was with the molesting priests, the torturing Americans appropriately raise questions about the culture, system, and supervision that failed to anticipate and prevent their actions.

The Democrats and the media aren’t giving the enemies of America that club that Laura Ingraham described. The American torturers and their negligent superiors crafted the club and delivered it. This is not the time to blame the critics, when there is much that needs to be criticized

Hannity, Ingraham and the rest are presumably educated people; they’ve read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (“The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bonesÂ…”); they know that proportionately small groups of aberrant wrong-doers have fueled fear, bias and hatred against minorities, Republicans, lawyers, gay men, postal workers, teen-agers, Muslims and Rottweilers, to name just a few. For once they should abandon their partisan concerns and not attempt to minimize the significance of the scandal.

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