We’re Different … or So We Think

I bet Peggy Noonan would feel differently if it was her son being waterboarded. Thats one of the first thoughts I had upon hearing the amazing comment uttered from her mouth during a recent discussion on an ABC political talk show. Noonan, 58, was a spee

Apr 29, 2009 at 2:06 pm

“I bet Peggy Noonan would feel differently if it was her son being waterboarded.” That’s one of the first thoughts I had upon hearing the amazing comment uttered from her mouth during a recent discussion on an ABC political talk show.

Noonan, 58, was a speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan and now is a columnist for The Wall Street Journal. She’s known for her elegant turns of phrase and sweeping imagery, but no amount of pretty words could hide the absurdity and inherent ugliness of her statement.

While discussing the release of CIA memos that detail the types of torture techniques used by U.S. interrogators on alleged terrorism suspects during the Bush Administration and whether anyone should be held legally accountable, Noonan pooh-poohed the entire topic in a condescending and shockingly anti-democratic way.

“It’s hard for me to look at a great nation issuing these documents and sending them out to the world and thinking, ‘Oh, much good will come of that,’ ” Noonan said, adding, “Some of life has to be mysterious.”

Judging from her remarks, Noonan dislikes transparency in government and doesn’t believe the great, unwashed masses can handle the truth. With such attitudes common among many conservative pundits and politicians, it’s mindboggling that progressive Democrats are the ones tagged with the label “New York elites.”

To the contrary, I’d argue that releasing the memos is exactly what a great nation would do, and some good will come from it. Hopefully, if we’re stupid enough to elect another rogue administration like Dubya’s, the possibility that its memos weakly attempting to justify clearly illegal behavior could eventually become public will serve as a deterrent.

As Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis once said about government secrets, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.”

Further, great nations are able to admit their failings and work to correct them, which serves as an example to nations everywhere.

There’s no doubt that if the same techniques we used at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere were used against U.S. soldiers or civilians, we’d surely call it torture and seek whatever remedies we could to achieve justice.

Consider the case of Dilawar, an Afghan taxi driver featured in Alex Gibney’s searing film, Taxi to the Dark Side. Dilawar was detained simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and beaten to death by U.S. soldiers at Bagram Air Base during “interrogations.”

The incident would be bad enough if it were isolated, but attorneys who inspected records at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq say they revealed that only 8 percent of the people held there had connections to al-Qaeda.

It reminds me of an incident I heard about during the early days of the Iraq War in 2003. Acting on tips, U.S. officials dropped a bomb on a crowded restaurant believing that Saddam Hussein was hiding there. He wasn’t, but numerous civilians — including children — were killed or injured.

Many Americans don’t like to linger on such facts, merely calling it “collateral damage” in the effort to stop a real or perceived evil. Isn’t that exactly the same rationale used by the hijackers to justify the 9/11 attacks? And the same rationale used by suicide bombers trying to achieve some political goal?

Noonan and other Beltway insiders in Washington don’t believe we should hold a formal inquiry into the use of torture against detainees, and they surely don’t want anyone to face criminal charges because of it.

Compare that to the treatment of the teen-aged Somali pirate captured and hauled before a federal judge in New York last week. All evidence points to Abdulwali Muse as being the leader of the pirates who captured a U.S. cargo ship off the African coast and held crew members for ransom before a military rescue.

But the ship was in Kenyan waters, and Muse should have been turned over to Kenyan courts, as pirates have been in the past. If the United States doesn’t trust the courts there, it should appeal to have the case moved to the International Criminal Court in The Hague — but it hasn’t.

Instead, after a legal battle over whether Muse was 15 or 19, a judge ruled he could be tried here as an adult. If convicted of piracy, he faces a mandatory life sentence in prison.

Muse certainly should face punishment of some sort, but life in prison for an incident in which no U.S. citizen was killed is excessive. Yet there’s nary a peep of criticism because most U.S. citizens think he has it coming.

If someone would try to take a poll about the origins of anti-American sentiment throughout the world, I’d wager a leading cause would be a sense of arrogance and applying double-standards on our part. It’s a phenomenon known as “American exceptionalism.”

Let’s remember that we executed Japanese soldiers for waterboarding American POWs during World War II, yet now we’re arguing that no one should even stand trial for the practice when we employ it. Amazing.

These aren’t just the views of some musty old liberals, lefties or “socialists.” Several principled writers on the right agree. One is Justin Raimondo, the conservative and libertarian who was one of the earliest critics of the Iraq War.

“To this day, the fire-bombing of Dresden and the nuclear annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are routinely defended by respectable historians and pundits, who point to the alleged necessity of defeating a greater evil, namely Hitler and Hirohito,” Raimondo wrote recently. “It matters little that neither the destruction of Dresden nor the nuking of two Japanese cities was necessary to end the war: the point is that the rulers of the U.S., and their intellectual amen corner, are great believers in ‘American exceptionalism.’

“What this means is that when other nations commit war crimes, it is OK — indeed, it is incumbent on us — to bring them to justice. When we do it, however, well, we’re the exception, you see.”

Noonan coined the phrase “a kinder, gentler nation” in a speech she wrote for George H.W. Bush. It’s time we begin striving to live up to those words.

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