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Monday, September 18, 2006

For Foes of Bush Plan, Values Win - by Tommy Tomlinson

Finally: a glimpse of what our government ought to be.

Republicans are questioning their president in a time of war. When Democrats did it a lot of folks said it was treasonous. I'm wondering who will be the first to stand up to Colin Powell or John McCain and call them traitors.

The issue is using torture to get information from suspected terrorists, and how far down that lightless road we're willing to go.

President Bush wants to let U.S. investigators work outside some of the long-understood rules set out in the Geneva Conventions.

The president has repeatedly said: "We do not torture." But the sad fact is that we do, and will again if the president gets his way.

Powell, the president's former secretary of state, knows this. So does McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. So does Lindsey Graham, the senator from South Carolina, who served as an Air Force lawyer.

They're taking a stand because they haven't forgotten something we all once knew.

The rest of the civilized world takes its cues from us.

Continued on "Print Article and/or Read More" below >>>
When we stash suspects in prisons without a chance to defend themselves, when we send them to military tribunals instead of public courts, when we torture prisoners, other countries get a free pass to do the same. Or worse.

That's part of the burden of being the country with the most freedoms, the most rights, the most checks on government power.

Our values are just words until they're put to the test.

Part of what has happened is that we've lost faith in our system. We worry that a Constitution from the time of muskets can't adapt to suicide bombers.

More than that, we've lost faith in the national conversation. We forget that united is not the same as unanimous. And so we quit listening to the other side.

No matter what the bumper stickers say, we've never had an evil president. We've had some who made noble mistakes, many who were tragically wrong, a bunch who couldn't meet the demands of the toughest job in the world.

President Bush qualifies on all those counts. Mainly he's misguided and stubborn -- a guy who took a bunch of wrong turns and won't ask for directions.

Problem is, his wrong turns have consequences.

The American process works. Zacarias Moussaoui -- the "20th hijacker" from Sept. 11 -- was tried in a regular federal court. The government tussled with itself over parts of the case. But in the end a jury sent Moussaoui to prison for life. The judge told him he will "die with a whimper."

We don't have to choose between our system and winning, between our values and winning, between the rules of the civilized world and winning.

Even in a brutal world our values will save us. That's not just the basis of American thought, it's the core of religious faith.

What the terrorists did to us, what they want to do to us, revealed who they are.

The ways we choose to deal with it reveals who we are.

Tommy Tomlinson has written a local column for the Charlotte Observer since 1997. He was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in commentary.

© Copyright 2006 The Charlotte Observer
For Foes of Bush Plan, Values Win


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