U.S. must uphold moral authority

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 17, 2004

Ghandi told us &8220;morality is contraband in war.&8221; And indeed, in the photos and stories from Abu Ghraib prison, we see no evidence of morality.

And yet at least one senator claims to be &8220;outraged by the outrage&8221; over the treatment of Iraqis at this infamous prison.

Perhaps what Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma forgets, though, is that America cannot lay claim to moral authority if we don&8217;t uphold our own sense of morality.

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Claiming it&8217;s OK just because the other side commits greater atrocities &8212; even though they obviously do &8212; makes as much sense as a child telling his mother, &8220;Everyone else is doing it; why can&8217;t I?&8221;

America is the moral authority in the world. Wearing that cloak comes with vast responsibility, and we can see now that all of us bear that responsibility &8212; from leaders at the top to a 20-year-old soldier from West Virginia.

Whether the actions at the prison were the result of the apathy of a handful of soldiers for rules or the encouragement from higher officials who looked the other way, we have a scandal on our hands that could affect our country&8217;s reputation for generations.

Our hope now is that we be judged not by what precipitated the scandal but by our reaction to it. Comments like Inhofe&8217;s seem to be, thankfully, in the minority.

The United States went to war in Iraq to fight Saddam Hussein and what he represented. The very title of our military operation promises freedom and democracy for people suffering for generations under a tyrant.

And, yes, part of our mission has been accomplished. We have soldiers who are rebuilding the infrastructure and the institutions that will help breed new generations of free Iraqi leadership.

We have soldiers who are training new Iraqi police, who are making sure children can go to school, who are bringing utilities and food to the people.

But whether we like it or not, those stories won&8217;t get much press in the world.

The story of the prison has taken hold in part because it is such an aberration of American values. They may not realize it, but other countries must take for granted our moral authority.

What happened at Abu Ghraib is surprising, and is so newsworthy, because it is not American, and yet it was perpetrated by Americans.

That is why our reaction to these events is so important to our reputation in the world.

The initial investigation, in the form of a report by Gen. Antonio Taguba, has been just the beginning. Congress is asking tough questions; President Bush is privately upbraiding and publicly praising Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

But our reaction must be far more than public relations tactics. We must back up our remorse for this incident with actions that befit a superpower &8212; a superpower that is a democracy. You will never see such remorse from terrorists like those who beheaded young Nick Berg.

Already the process for courts-martial of the soldiers charged in the incidents is beginning. The first trial is scheduled this week, and you can bet that the world will be watching.

Think of what they will see: Democracy in action. The circumstances are horrendous, but that democratic process is the example we promised we would bring to Iraq &8212; not what happened at Abu Ghraib.

Kerry Whipple

is editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 445-3541 or by e-mail at