Saturday, June 25, 2005

Guantanamo's Long Shadow

Blogs, at least many of the high profile ones, have an annoying tendency to be prolific slaves to the meme of the moment. Hurrying to be the first to make a point. Its exhausting for the reader and, I imagine, the blogger. Here I want to pursue a more relaxed pace. In that vein I know this NYT editorial by Anthony Lewis is old news. I hope you have already read it. Its point resonates even more strongly on a second read, after another week of Durbin's tempest, Rove's provocations, and Cheney's up-is-downism. Lewis is speaking an important truth with, Guantanamo's Long Shadow

No one can seriously doubt now that cruelties and indignities have been inflicted on prisoners at Guantanamo. Nor is there any doubt that worse has happened elsewhere - prisoners beaten to death by American soldiers, untold others held in secret locations by the Central Intelligence Agency, others rendered to be tortured by governments such as Uzbekistan's.

Since the widespread outrage over the photographs from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Americans have seemingly ceased to care. It was reported yesterday that Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the former American commander in Iraq during the Abu Ghraib scandal, is being considered for promotion. Many people would say the mistreatment of Mohamed al-Kahtani, or of suspects who might well be innocent, is justified in a war with terrorists. Morality is outweighed by necessity.

The moral cost is not so easily put aside. We Americans have a sense of ourselves as a moral people. We have led the way in the fight for human rights in the world. Mistreating prisoners makes the world see our moral claims as hypocrisy.

Beyond morality, there is the essential role of law in a democracy, especially in American democracy. This country has no ancient mythology to hold it together, no kings or queens. We have had the law to revere. No government, we tell ourselves, is above the law.

Over many years the United States has worked to persuade and compel governments around the world to abide by the rules. By spurning our own rules, we put that effort at risk. What Justice Louis Brandeis said about law at home applies internationally as well: 'If the government becomes a law-breaker, it breeds contempt for law.'

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