02 August 2014

Sactimonious? Really.

When one departs from progressive / liberal orthodoxy, the reaction from one's friends can be vicious. So I approached this post with some trepidation. I take some comfort in knowing I have relatively few readers. None-the-less, I think some things should be said.

I am an open supporter of Mr. Obama. But(!) he can be wrong once in a while. As he and I are both human, this observation cuts both ways: I can be wrong too. This time, however, I think who is whom is painfully obvious.

When a person goes through basic training, one thing discussed briefly, is the question of illegal orders. There is reason to cover this topic. In Viet Nam, we know that American infantry committed illegal acts, and some were in convicted by courts martial for them. We know that some crimes have taken place in Iraq too. Over time, since Nuremberg, we have created law on the subject. The rules are fairly clear. It is legally required that one disobey an illegal order. Recruits are told this, and then if friends and family recall correctly, that they need not worry because officers will never give such orders. Most of the time that second instruction is correct. When it is not, courts deal with the officers more harshly than with the enlisted who follow the unlawful orders, as they should.

The principal stands clear: we do not tolerate unlawful conduct by American troops or other agents. Except now, it appears we do.

Immediately after what Americans now call, "911" (Al Q'ida's terror attacks) it is now clear that some American agents committed acts of prohibited torture. We know this because Mr. Obama himself has said so, and because the Senate is about to issue a report describing such conduct. There is a major fight going on in Washington over the amount of the report that will be suppressed. The fight if not the content, has leaked.

The President, I think anticipating the release of the report, simply said it out loud, "Some folks were tortured."

At some level we all sort of knew this. Mr. Cheney has been vociferously claiming these things did not constitute torture, but rather were, "enhanced interrogation." This is a classic distinction without a difference. Either is the same to the victim, and oh yes, either is a, "Crime Against Humanity" under both our and International law.

Which leads to the balance of Mr. Obama's comments. He said no one who had committed those acts would be prosecuted, and that those who disagree with that decision are, "sanctimonious." Let me save you a trip to a dictionary. To be sanctimonious is to claim to be morally superior to another. As is often the case, connotation matters. Synonyms one finds in the dictionary,include, "holier than thou," and "self-righteous." I suppose in the South one might say, "putting on airs.

When these actions were being done, there where Americans, among them me, shouting and writing letters against these (Republican) actions. Torture is not sort of wrong, it is flat out evil. At Abu Ghraib, an Iraqi prison we took over after the Iraqi war, prisoner abuse led to a series of courts martial and a number of convictions, prison sentences, and dishonorable discharges.

And well they should. We should punish those who violate our law, common decency, and our reputation. At the end of the second world war, German units fought to reach American and British lines, to surrender. They fought to avoid surrender to Russian units. The expectation was that the English or American troops would treat them humanely. I wonder what might happen now?

Mr. Obama observed that the (I am guessing CIA) operatives who tortured prisoners are, "patriotic." Samuel Johnson famously observed, "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." In the centuries since he spoke (April 1775) no one has proved him wrong.

War crimes are not about relative moral superiority. They are about specific, unpatriotic, illegal, and reprehensible acts. Torturers do not deserve to be labeled patriots, but rather tried, and if convicted, imprisoned. Sorry Mr. President, this is about actions, not flag waving.


Leonard said...

Thank you.

JimB said...

You are welcome.


JCF said...

ITA...but think "progressive / liberal orthodoxy" does, too. I don't think anyone claiming the "P" or "L" words are defending the President on this one.

JimB said...

JCF, no probably not. He screwed up, and the one piece of good news is there is no statute of limitations on war crimes.


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