Sherman had it right: war is hell. And sometimes there's hell to pay as the business of war unfolds. It's one thing to go to war as a combatant when you know that both you and your adversary are agreed on submitting to international conventions regarding the treatment of prisoners. It's another thing to be a combatant on a side that utterly disregards, no, despises such conventions and openly, publicly, and in the most gruesome of manner demonstrates its scorn for all moral decency, every international convention, and even the most basic human rights. Anyone who signs up to fight in such a cause has, it seems to me, no right to expect anything from his adversary other than what he proposes to dish out. Americans fighting Islamic terrorists know what they're up against, and the fighters they oppose know the stakes as well. This is not to plead legitimacy for the use of torture; rather, it is to keep CIA interrogation practices in a proper context. Compared to the treatment of prisoners and innocent citizens meted out by terrorists, the reports of what CIA agents may or may not have done to break information free from prisoners seem, well, mild. Mr. Obama's decision at this moment in time to seek to deflect public outrage from his inept administration of the nation's affairs to the "transgressions" of American interrogators may only have the effect of increasing disgust with his politics. We expect more of a President who claims to be a Christian. Yes, we expect more from American combatants; however, to date no CIA interrogators have sawed off the head of a detainee or hanged his body from bridge and set it afire. I don't expect we'll see anything like that from American forces in the field, although, yes, there will be occasions when, in dealing with combatants whose regard for human life and common decency is nonexistent, what Americans regard as the occasional misstep or overextension will happen, and should be understandable and easily enough corrected. But it's not clear if President Obama will come through this latest ploy without significant damage. The hell he and his political colleagues hope to visit on the Bush Administration may end up raining brimstone down on their highest hopes and aspirations.
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