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Thursday, September 21, 2006

 

'Moral Desert' - What the President and His Team Have Wrought



Between the late John Ford's classic films to the outsourcing of torture by the Bush Administration there lies a lot of American history. Harold Meyerson's eloquent column ought to be a
must read for those who are unsure about the president's insistence on being permitted to continue torture of prisoners by methods that contravene Geneva Conventions. "As events would have it, though, our nation is led by men who have carefully avoided both war and literature. By men devoid of a sense of the nation's and their own moral fallibility. By men who have led us into a moral desert and aren't even looking for a way back home." See Naomi Klein's article in The Guardian. Dec.10,2005. "The US has used torture for decades. All that's new is the openness about it"



Into A Moral Desert

Defend civilization by becoming as barbaric as its enemies, Ford suggests, and you are no longer really part of that civilization. Or perhaps you are, but that civilization has lost some of its ideals, its raison d'ĂȘtre, in the process.

These thoughts of Homer and Ford on men in war are occasioned by the story of the Syrian-born Canadian computer engineer whom the Mounties misidentified as an al-Qaeda associate and whom our own government then spirited off to Syria in September 2002 so he could be tortured into revealing what he knew. After nearly a year of torture, it was clear that he knew nothing, because he wasn't an al-Qaeda associate.

What's striking about this story (and it's just one of many things that are striking about this story) is that we sent him to Syria, which was providing us with some assistance during the period between Sept. 11 and our invasion of Iraq but which also was an authoritarian regime that knew no constraints in the treatment of its presumed enemies. We sent him there because he'd be tortured, because the Syrians would do the kinds of things that the same administration officials who devised this policy feared the Syrians, given half a chance, would do to us.

But why rely just on the Syrians? At the same time, as the president acknowledged this month, we ourselves (that is, CIA employees) had embarked on our own round of torture of al-Qaeda suspects, some of them the genuine article, some not. As the president asserted during his news conference Friday, that doesn't mean that we've become our enemy, that we're in any sense the moral equivalent of al-Qaeda. But it most certainly means we've abandoned our own moral and legal norms, as the administration's determination to create a loophole in the Geneva Conventions makes unmistakably clear.

Lindsey Graham, John Warner, Colin Powell and above all John McCain know firsthand what war can do to men and why we need laws to keep men from becoming their nightmare image of their enemy. Their knowledge is as old as Homer, as American as John Ford.

As events would have it, though, our nation is led by men who have carefully avoided both war and literature. By men devoid of a sense of the nation's and their own moral fallibility. By men who have led us into a moral desert and aren't even looking for a way back home.




*****


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