06/01/2006 01:48 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Horror at Home –- Liebau, the Right, and Haditha

I wasn't going to post today, but here's a quick one in response to Carol Platt Liebau's repellent post about Haditha. She's performed a useful service by compressing all of the Right's morally polluted arguments, especially about this kind of incident, into one brief piece. Haditha's one kind of horror. Ethical weaseling about it here at home is another.

Here are some of the standard right-wing debating tricks Carol uses in her piece:

Save Your Moral Outrage For Critics of Torture and Baby-Killing: Trying to beat a one-year-old child to death? Smashing a 7-year-old girl's brains out? Sure, those things are terrible, says Liebau -- but what really gets my goat are these liberal critics who dispprove of those things. Shame on you, scolds Liebau. You're just not being very reasonable.

Be A Moral Relativist: The big conservative knock on liberals in the '70s and '80s was "moral relativism." You know, like when liberals would say that they understand why poor people knock off liquor stores for drug money, because they've been raised without hope? That's despicable -- but using slippery arguments to dilute the moral outrage over babykilling is OK. Why? Because you have to look at the "bigger picture."

Today's so-called "conservatives" (a disgrace to traditional conservatism) are the most extreme moral relativists in history. Political corruption? Not a problem, if it's our guy. Cheating on your cancer-stricken wife? That's OK, if you're a Republican. Baby-killing? In the broader context ("we liberated 25 million Iraqis," she claims) it's really not all that bad. Hey, you liberals must be America-haters.

Pretend That Criticism of Our Leaders Is Criticism of the Troops: Here's a classic righty move -- "Stop attacking or condemning our soldiers until you have the facts," writes Liebau. Leaving aside the fact that we already have most of the facts, most liberals aren't condemning the soldiers (read my own "The Souls of Soldiers" for an example of "liberal" compassion toward young people who are brainwashed into killing.) They're condemning the leadership that created the conditions that allowed this horror to occur -- and the collaborationists like Liebau that supported them and helped them do it (and continue to help).

Liebau and her GOP leadership are the ones attacking the soldiers -- at Haditha, at Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo, and elsewhere. Time and time again we're told that our troops on the front line are evil and/or crazy, and we put them on trial -- all the while ignoring plentiful evidence that the chain of responsibility leads to the top.

Hey, Carol! Stop bashing our troops! Admit that it's not their fault -- they're young kids who've been dropped into an unwinnable war among a hostile population, thanks to the leaders you support.

Conduct a Grotesque Moral Calculus: "... according to this site, 2119 Americans have died as a result of hostile fire. So for each of the 24 Iraqis who may have been wrongly killed, more than 88 Americans have died in the cause of helping Iraq become a free and secure country."

Or course, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis may have died -- or 100-plus for each American soldier. We can play this game forever, but it's totally meaningless. And how liberated are the dead? Or the living, for that matter, when the rape rooms are still open and the torture goes on?

Most importantly -- what kind of human being treats a dead baby as an algebra problem?

Insist That Our Leaders Be Held to No Higher Moral Standard Than Beheaders and Terrorists Get: "Treat America's soldiers as respectfully as you do its enemies," writes Liebau. She suggests that liberals are condemning American soldiers as guilty while defending Guantanamo and other detainees as innocent.

First, a factual problem: There's extensive supporting information to show that the incident at Haditha was an atrocity, and equally extensive information to show that many of our abused and tortured detainess are in fact innocent (as were the child victims at Haditha). To Leibau and her ilk, that doesn't matter.

"Give America's fighting men and women at least the same modicum of respect that you accord to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad," writes Liebau. "Be as willing to offer them the benefit of the doubt as you've been to offer it to Saddam Hussein on the matter of WMD's." Er -- but he didn't have WMD's. Oh, there I go again with the facts -- I must be a Hussein-lover.

When Liebau and other conservatives say "give us the same treatment you give our enemies," they're saying other things: "Don't acknowledge known wrongs on our side unless you're willing to torture the innocent, too." Does that make sense?

They're also fond of saying "Why don't you liberals condemn terrorists when they behead people?" That argument's implicit in Carol's writing here. Carol -- they're terrorists. We know they're bad. We're supposed to be the good guys. That means we get held to a higher standard.

And the terrorists don't act in our name, using our tax dollars. That gives us a responsibility to speak up. And lastly, we've assumed that all civilized people condemn barbarity and brutality, which is we we've assumed that you all on the Right know that we hate torture and slaughter.

You're proving that we were wrong on both counts: You don't assume we condemn barbarity. That's because, when it's done by your guys, you choose to attack those who condemn it -- and avoid any criticism of those who should be held most accountable.


Carol and the rest of her Bush-defending pals need to go home and take an ethics class. Then they need to ask forgiveness. This kind of argument is shameful. In fact, I'll go a step further: It's un-American. Our national identity is based on holding ourselves, and our country, to the highest moral standard on Earth.

And that -- rather than this kind of slippery rationalizing -- is true patriotism.

A Night Light