Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Staying Clean in a Dirty War

The heart sinks at the ongoing struggle of a President who exalts American decency trying to maintain it in fighting enemies imbued with the holiness of a cause that sanctions any and all abuses of human beings.

The inner conflict is crystallized in his decision today to resist court-ordered release of photographs showing alleged torture of Mideast detainees following a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Publication, he says, would be of no benefit to investigations being carried out and could put future inquiries at risk:"In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger."

Today's decision, a reversal of his previous stand, inspires ACLU condemnation: “The Obama administration’s adoption of the stonewalling tactics and opaque policies of the Bush administration flies in the face of the president’s stated desire to restore the rule of law, to revive our moral standing in the world and to lead a transparent government."

Those of us grateful for the contrast of Barack Obama with George W. Bush may be forgiven for not subscribing to this rhetoric. Transparency is an ideal to be ardently pursued, but it can't include exposing everything we've ever done in a dirty war to public view.

Isn't it enough that that Obama has definitively ordered an end to such behavior? Can't we express our sorrow at past wrongs without inflaming an Arab world that won't make fine distinctions between then and now? Just as we can't bring back the dead from a misbegotten war in Iraq, isn't the best way to honor them not to repeat the mistakes that took their lives?

There is a line between transparency and self-righteous breast-beating, and we're lucky to have a president who keeps trying to find it.

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