You Won't Hear This From Bush
by Jerry Gilio
October 12, 2004

I may have been wrong.

Now that's something you won't find in a Bush stump speech.

The other day I was rereading some of my old essays. It's interesting because my opinion sometimes changes over time, as more information becomes available. It can also be changed by a persuasive argument.

As I read my initial thoughts about the situation at Abu Ghraib prison, I realized that I never passed along a very compelling case made by a wise friend. I need to remedy that.

Sarah Littman read my essay and we began to go back and forth about my contention that the photos from Abu Ghraib didn't constitute torture. You need to realize that the more grievous abuses hadn't been made public yet. There hadn't been any talk about prisoners being "compressed" until they suffocated.

We discussed whether the treatment violated various treaties, such as the Geneva Conventions. Were these people even entitled to such protections, since according to Bush they weren't technically prisoners of war?

But, Sarah asked, aren't we supposed to be the moral ones? Do moral obligations end with what one is bound to by treaties and laws? If the United States wanted to claim the moral high ground didn't we need to set an example through our actions? Isn't treating your prisoners with dignity important if you want to seem righteous to the world?

Sarah had asked some excellent questions. I had no answers to dispute them and all they implied. She showed me that even if my claim was valid that the treatment was nothing more than a bunch of humiliating pranks, it was still too much. You have to be moral in small ways as well as big. The little things count.

Bush doesn't seem to draw a distinction between morality and law. (Click here to hear Furious George give a somewhat annoyed explanation of his position.) This seems oddly hypocritical to me coming from a man of such supposedly strong religious convictions.

The Geneva Conventions prohibit humiliating prisoners. You're also not allowed to deprive them of clothes. Now we could fall into lock step with Bush. We could get all lawyered up, hunt down the loopholes and justify whatever behavior is convenient. But is that particularly moral?

Bush seems to be taking his cues from the Salem Witch Trials. You have rights unless you're a terrorist or enemy combatant. Then you're a threat and don't deserve the same rights as decent people. How do we know you're a terrorist or enemy combatant? Well, you will be accused of having engaged in prohibited behavior. There may or may not be evidence to support this. You may have specific charges filed and a trial some day, but since you're an enemy combatant you have no rights. You're not entitled to due process. So don't hold your breath waiting for that trial and enjoy your stay at Gitmo or Abu Ghraib or the Death Star we're building in space.

Hmmmm ... I think if we want moral leadership we'd better follow Sarah. She showed me that Right trumps Rules. And Bush doesn't even admit that there are rules.

Sarah Littman writes for the Greenwich Time. If you want to experience her wisdom firsthand, you can find it at

Copyright © 2004