May 4, 2004

MORE ON TORTURE: Reader Mostafa Sabet emails:

Please, please, please don’t compare us to Syria or Iran. PLEASE! Last I checked these weren’t beacons of freedom. My family came from Egypt where the torture was far, far worse than anything that was committed in Iraq by our troops. My maternal grandfather and my father’s uncle were both taken political prisoner and repeatedly whipped and maltreated. My father said his uncle lost all his hair and aged 10 years in the one year he was in prison.

That was a big reason my family came to this great country. What we did is not as vile as other countries and it is a testament to our great country that we are decrying and investigating these acts and that we will punish those responsible. That is what makes us great, not the fact that our torture is more mild. The internment of Japanese Americans was terrible even though we weren’t as bad as the Nazis. The morality of the act is not predicated on the actions of others (that’s moral relativism, something we often decry in others), but on the absolute morality.

The people in these prisons were probably terrible people, but that doesn’t make this treatment less odious. Heck, even the Nazis treated our troops pretty well. When part of the goal is liberation and winning hearts and minds, it is imperative that we maintain the moral high ground. Acts like this undermine the entire campaign and are a disservice to those that have made the ultimate sacrifice.

That’s true, and I agree with it all. There are dark moments, however, when I wonder if the world doesn’t hate us because we hold the moral high ground, and if many wouldn’t breathe a secret sigh of relief if we started living down to their standards.

But that makes an important point. If what we’d wanted was “stability” in Iraq, we could have had it easily by shooting a few thousand people, stringing the bodies up from lampposts, and leaving most of Saddam’s secret police in business under new management. For that matter, we could “solve” the Fallujah problem with a MOAB or two.

We’ve chosen a different path in Iraq, and I think that was the right thing to do. Nonetheless, it’s galling that this choice — which was the hard choice, not the easy one — is seen by so many as weakness.

UPDATE: Jeez, this guy sure misunderstands my point above. He seems to think I regret the approach we’ve taken, when actually I regret that people misunderstand it.

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