Thursday, October 06, 2005

A Government of Laws, Indeed

Our constitution works. Our great republic is a government of laws, not of men.

-President Gerald Ford, shortly after assuming the Presidency.

I believe President Ford said this just after his predecessor, Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace. Watergate exposed a president that thought he was above the law. President Ford's words remind us that in America, no one is above all the law and that it is the law, not a person that is the bedrock of our great land.

I reminded of these words after the stunning victory in the Senate of the anti-torture amendment sponsored by Arizona Republican, John McCain. The vote wasn't even close, 90-9. The White House is threatening a veto on the whole Defense Appropriations bill because of the amdendment.

The Bush Administration has been playing fast and lose with the rules regarding how we treat prisoners and detainees. I'm not certain that the Administration is creating the conditions that allow such shameful acts as Abu Gharib, but they have done nothing to stop them. Turning a blind eye to such horrific acts is as bad as authorizing them and shouldn't be tolerated. It's sad that it took Congress to do what the White House should have done at least a year ago.

The hero of hour has to be John McCain. The Senator, who was was a prisoner of war himself spoke eloquently about the necessity of this amendment:

Mr. President, war is an awful business. I know that. I don’t think I’m naïve about how severe are the wages of war, and how terrible are the things that must be done to wage it successfully. It is a grim, dark business, and no matter how noble the cause for which it is fought, no matter how valiant the service, many veterans spend much of their subsequent lives trying to forget not only what was done to them and their comrades, but some of what had to be done by their hand to prevail.

I don’t mourn the loss of any terrorist’s life nor do I care if in the course of serving their ignoble cause they suffer great harm. They have pledged their lives to the intentional destruction of innocent lives, and they have earned their terrible punishment in this life and the next.

What I do regret, what I do mourn, and what I do care very much about is what we lose, what we -- the American serviceman and woman and the great nation they defend at the risk of their lives – what we lose when by official policy or by official negligence – we allow, confuse or encourage our soldiers to forget that best sense of ourselves, our greatest strength – that we are different and better than our enemies; that we fight for an idea – not a tribe, not a land, not a king, not a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion – but for an idea that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights.

I have been asked before where did the brave men I was privileged to serve with in Vietnam draw the strength to resist to the best of their ability the cruelties inflicted on them by our enemies. Well, we drew strength from our faith in each other, from our faith in God, and from our faith in our country. Our enemies didn’t adhere to the Geneva Convention. Many of my comrades were subjected to very cruel, very inhumane and degrading treatment, a few of them even unto death. But everyone of us knew, every single one of us knew and took great strength from the belief that we were different from our enemies, that we were better than them, that we, if the roles were reversed, would not disgrace ourselves by committing or countenancing such mistreatment of them. That faith was indispensable not only to our survival, but to our attempts to return home with honor. Many of the men I served with would have preferred death to such dishonor.

The enemies we fight today hold such liberal notions in contempt, as they hold the international conventions that enshrine them such as the Geneva Conventions and the treaty on torture in contempt. I know that. But we’re better than them, and we are the stronger for our faith. And we will prevail. I submit to my colleagues that it is indispensable to our success in this war that our servicemen and women know that in the discharge of their dangerous responsibilities to their country they are never expected to forget that they are Americans, the valiant defenders of a sacred idea of how nations should govern their own affairs and their relations with others – even our enemies.

Those who return to us and those who give their lives for us are entitled to that honor. And those of us who have given them this onerous duty are obliged by our history, and by the sacrifices – the many terrible sacrifices -- that have been made in our defense – we are obliged to make clear to them that they need not risk their or their country’s honor to prevail; that they are always, always – through the violence, chaos and heartache of war, through deprivation and cruelty and loss – they are always, always Americans, and different, better, and stronger than those who would destroy us.

God bless them as he has blessed us with their service.

When I've talked to fellow Republican friends about this, some have said that because of the tragedy of 9/11, and the fact that many children don't have parents because of that. we shouldn't care about how we treat prisoners. The long and short of it: they didn't treat us with respect, so why should we?

Because we are America, that's why. Because we believe that all people are endowed with inalienable rights and that all are created equal. Because, we have a long history of treating even our enemies with respect.

But, don't take my word for it, take the words of Captain Ian Fishback who helped expose another tale of prisoner abuse:

Some argue that since our actions are not as horrifying as Al Qaeda's, we should not be concerned. When did Al Qaeda become any type of standard by which we measure the morality of the United States? We are America, and our actions should be held to a higher standard, the ideals expressed in documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.


If we must fight a war on terror, let us do it with the ideals that we say we are fighting to uphold. The Bush Administration should allow this amendment to pass and become law. I join with Andrew Sullivan in asking people to contact their Congressperson in the House to pass this amendment.


At 10:03 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Well said.

Either we're better than the terrorists or we're not. Either we're upholding that values of the civilized world or we're not. We have to make a decision. It's heartening that an overwhelming majority of senators in both parties made the right decision. Let's hope the House does the same.


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