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Monday, June 13, 2005

An excellent point

Fred Hiatt makes this important point in a Washington Post op-ed:

The United States and this administration in particular continually assert the moral right to behave differently than other nations. We will not be bound by the International Criminal Court. We insist that other nations give up their nuclear weapons while we keep our own. We wage war without U.N. Security Council approval. We publish annual report cards on everyone else's human rights records. The premise of this highhandedness is that the United States is, on balance, a force for good in the world -- a superpower that uses its might not to subjugate others but to allow them to live freely. This is a premise that The Post's editorial page on the whole accepts -- to the dismay of many readers. But any nation asserting such a high calling will be judged by an equally high standard. Are we better than the beheaders, the mass killers, the U.N. peacekeepers raping young girls in the Congo? That's not close to the right question. Do we behave as well as we claim, as we should, as we expect of others? That's the beginning of the right conversation -- and why it's fair to write more editorials about exceedingly mild Koran abuse at Guantanamo Bay than about the unspeakable mass graves of Hilla.
I agree with this completely. We can, and should hold ourselves to a higher standard. I would add the caution though, that when writing editorials on this subject, with the rest of the world looking breathlessly for any sign of U.S. moral failure. It is vitally important that any facts presented be correct. Beyond that, I would argue that it is only useful to present these facts in their proper context. I do want to know if a Koran is mistreated at Guantanamo. I also want to know who did the mistreating, how frequent it is been, and what, if anything, has been done to the person mistreating the Koran. I accept that the U.S. Government will at times inact inappropriate policies. I accept that that individual soldiers will at times behave in ways that demean their uniform and government. I will earnestly do what I can to correct these errors, but unless I am given factual information about the nature of the error, I cannot do little. I would also caution the writers of these peices, that a few times of crying wolf, when their is no wolf, greatly damages this cause.


Blogger Katinula said...

Well said, on both counts (author and Dave).
I agree. I find more troubling than anything the reflexive denial of others when abuses like these come to light. Yes, there are mild cases of abuse. Yes, there are much more serious cases of abuse. It should be an open door to human rights agencies and the American public (to the extent it doesn't endanger national security).
When it looks like you are hiding something, whether you are or not, its not a good thing.

6/13/2005 01:28:00 PM  
Blogger Dave Justus said...

I can't tell if you meant your parenthetical about national security to apply to both the human rights agencies and the American public, or just the public.

Assuming the former, I agree with you.

I would add that while specifics of detainees may reasonably remain secret for a time, policies about how we treat them, and when (and for how long) secrets can be kept should be fully explained.

On the other hand, while I don't like the Bush administrations secrecy here, I do sort of understand it. For the most part they face a hostile press, and don't trust their policies to be reported on fairly.

That is a significant issue, to the extent that it is true (and it is often true at least) because if the Government cannot trust the press to be honest, fair, and accurate it will naturally try to become more secretive.

6/13/2005 02:01:00 PM  
Blogger Random Gemini said...

I agree with Dave on this. If the Bush administration is trying to be secretive (and I will even agree that this is a very likely possibility), it may largely be as a direct result of a hostile press that will not report matters involving the government without placing some sort of spin on it to make things seem like they are ten times worse than reality.

It's very frustrating for me, because I was on my school newspaper in junior high and we were always told that the job of a journalist was to state the facts of a situation, not to give their opinion on those facts.

Having written several articles for that newspaper from an unbiased perspective, I can tell you that doing such a thing is incredibly hard. Maybe journalistic standards have become too much for modern day journalists to meet.

I think the world becomes a much more dangerous place when the press, designed to be part of our system of checks and balances on the government, lays on the spin so thick that you can cut it with a knife.

6/13/2005 05:03:00 PM  
Blogger Katinula said...

Yes, I meant that parenthetical about both situations. I'm certainly not in favor of endangering our national security, although I find that the administration uses that 'excuse' rather well. Also, I'm not sure I agree with you on the press issue. While I can understand that the administration would likely be more secretive considering a hostile press, it is no excuse. As a citizen, I expect the truth. I expect abuses to be investigated and for the whole situation to be transparent. If the administration feels it isn't getting a fair shake, they can take that to the American people. I think one can argue that they did that last November (despite all the cries of the liberal MSM) and the American people sided with them. A hostile press is not excuse to be secretive, at least not in a democracy.

6/13/2005 09:12:00 PM  
Blogger Dave Justus said...

I agree with you on that Katinula, I understand their reluctance, but don't agree with it.

I am also disapointed that the press is both not doing a great job reporting things fairly, and also not doing a great job actually investigating and reporting on this.

And in all fairness to the Administration and the Press, I am disapointed with the American people for not being a bit more actively involved and concerned with these issues. To many on both sides see this as merely a partisan issue, not something that deserves serious consideration and serious answers.

6/13/2005 09:24:00 PM  
Blogger Katinula said...

Amen to that! I couldn't agree more.

6/14/2005 09:42:00 AM  

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