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Monday, September 25, 2006

Powell Belatedly Joins Bid to Save Our Nation's Soul - by Leonard Pitts Jr.

Colin L. Powell is late. Late by weeks, late by months. Truth to tell, late by years.

"The world," he wrote in a letter to Sen. John McCain this month, "is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism."

The eyes goggle at the word, neon-obvious in its understatement. Beginning to doubt? "Beginning"?

Au contraire. Surely the world began to doubt when we barreled unilaterally into Iraq, crying, "WMD! WMD!" Surely the world began to doubt when, finding no weapons of mass destruction, we declared that not finding them didn't matter. Surely the world began to doubt when it read headlines of our soldiers committing acts of torture at Abu Ghraib. Surely the world began to doubt when news broke of the U.S. sending alleged terrorists to countries where they could be tortured. Surely the world began to doubt when Vice President Dick Cheney lobbied to exempt the CIA from rules prohibiting torture. Surely the world has doubted for a long time now.

Continued ...click on "Print Article and/or Read More" below >>>
CONTINUED
Mr. Powell's letter was meant as a show of support for a group of dissident GOP senators on the Armed Services Committee - Mr. McCain, John W. Warner, Lindsey Graham, Susan M. Collins - who joined Democrats in rebuffing a White House legislative attempt to reinterpret Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

The White House wanted to allow the use of torture in the interrogation of supposed terrorists. President Bush also wanted to be able to try alleged terrorists without allowing them to see the evidence against them - the very definition of a kangaroo court. (Under the agreement reached Thursday, the White House dropped its insistence on barring suspects from access to evidence.)

It's a mark of how far we have fallen since Sept. 11, 2001, that these things are even being discussed. So, belated as it is, Mr. Powell's evocation of morality also feels, paradoxically, like the timeliest of reminders for a nation that has so obviously forgotten who and what it is supposed to be.

Before 9/11, this country, whose moral authority much of the world is "beginning to doubt," inspired much of the world with that very moral authority. Imperfect and even hypocritical as we often were, we were in many ways the world's moral policeman, the nation that held other nations accountable on issues of human rights. We preached that gospel to Beijing, Moscow, Havana. Friends and enemies might have thought us a tad too idealistic, a bit too naive, a Boy Scout in the community of nations, but many of them admired us, too, for our decency, our square-jawed spirit of can-do, our faith in the power of right.

Then we got scared. And fear changed everything.

We are often told that terrorists threaten our "way of life." We hear this so often that it's jolting to realize it's not true.

Oh, they threaten our lives, certainly. Your life, mine. But our "way" of life? No.

Granted, that's a broad and vaguely defined term - but still, no. Whether you take it to mean things frivolous (baseball, MTV, fireworks on the Fourth) or things fundamental (freedom of speech, equality under the law, the native idealism of our national character), there is no way suicide bombers and fanatics with box cutters can destroy our way of life.

Unless we let them. Unless we, in fear, knuckle down and destroy it ourselves.

This, I think, was the line drawn by four GOP senators and the former secretary of state. A line that says, finally, beyond all politics and partisanship and manipulation and fear: enough.

I don't mean to minimize the threat terrorist fanatics pose to your life and mine. But vital as it is that our lives be protected, there are things that matter more. Meaning the essential character of our nation.

Experts say torture is an unreliable tool for interrogation; it often produces false confessions. But even if that were not the case, even if we had to choose between saving Americans and preserving America, it should be an easy call.

Kill me before you kill my country.
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column appears Sundays in The Sun.

Copyright © 2006, The Baltimore Sun
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source:
Powell Belatedly Joins Bid to Save Our Nation's Soul

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