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Jason Holliston
Wednesday, May 26, 2004  
One Thing Is Not Like The Other

This has been annoying me for quite a while, and I need to get it off my chest. For some reason, even the most sensible columnists, whenever they compare and contrast the abuses in Abu Ghraib with anything else, always say things like, "...not to minimize what happened in Abu Ghraib..." The most recent example of this is in a fisking Andrew Sullivan does of Susan Sontag's essay about the abuses. Note that this isn't an attack on Mr. Sullivan, as he's one of the most reasonable political writers I know. Everyone is doing this -- not just him.

Here's the case in point:

One might ask, for example, whether the indefensible torture of dozens of prisoners in the midst of a violent insurgency can be compared with the wholesale slaughter, constant executions, and torture on a far grander scale that were perpetrated by the monster the United States deposed. Is Lynndie England, for example, no different than Uday or Qusay Hussein? Are the handful of deaths in U.S. custody equatable with 300,000 buried in mass graves? These calculations do not and should not minimize the appalling abuse at Abu Ghraib, or indeed, the evidence of American ham-handedness in dealing with many civilians in Iraq. But they are essential for a morally serious grappling with Abu Ghraib.

He's skirting the line here, but doesn't quite go over it, like I've seen elsewhere. What exactly does he mean by "should not minimize the appalling abuse"? My point is that all wrongs are not equal. There are shades of darkness, some more pitch black than others. To put it bluntly, in no way does the abuses by U.S. soldiers in Abu Ghraib compare to feeding people feet first into wood chippers. To put them on an equivalent level is like a court of law sentencing a mass murderer to death, and then, based on their decision, deciding that a mugger should share the same fate. Both acts are wrong, but one is much worse than the other.

Of course, the soldiers guilty of the abuse will not face the death penalty. They'll spend a year or so in prison, be discharged dishonorably, and face their disgrace back home. That's right and proper. What's wrong is in the face of the press and of world opinion, they're equal.

So, yes, compared to a lot of the horrible crimes committed by Saddam's regime, you're damn straight the abuses at Abu Ghraib should be minimized.

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