Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Where do we go from here?

Ross Douthat has written a blog post for The Atlantic that captures, I think, much of the moral muddiness around the Bush administration's interrogation policies. As he says,

A term like "stress positions" sounds like one thing when it's sitting, bloodless, on a page; it sounds like something else when somebody dies from it.

Of course, people who use terms like "enhanced interrogation techniques" and "stress positions" do so exactly because of their bloodlessness, the filmy curtain they draw over what's really going on in places like Abu Ghraib. The photos from Abu Ghraib (benign introductory text, links to distressing images) yanked the curtain aside and forced Americans to see what was being done in their names. And now, having seen the photos, having seen the recently released Levin-McCain report (PDF), we have to decide what we want the new administration to do about it.

It's tempting, for all the reasons Douthat gives, to quietly put the curtain back in place, tiptoe away, and try to pretend it never happened. We can do that, but if we do we lose an opportunity to regain our moral authority. We lose the right to pretend that our proud defense of human rights and the rule of law is anything other than a rich nation's luxury, which we will abandon whenever it gets in the way. Americans may want to move on, but the rest of the world is watching to see what our promises really mean.

Former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora testified to the Senate Armed Services
Committee in June 2008 that “there are serving U.S. flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq – as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat – are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.” -- Levin-McCain report.

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