No apologies

I’ve been dreaming of a time when
To be English
Is not to be baneful
To be standing by the flag not feeling
Shameful, racist or partial …

— Morrissey, from "Irish Blood, English Heart"

This got buried in the previous post, so let me highlight this again, from President Bush's remarks to a small group of religion writers:

I said I am sorry for those people who were humiliated. That's all I said. I also said, "The great thing about our country is that people will now see that we'll deal with this in a transparent way based upon rule of law. And it will serve as a great contrast." But I never apologized to the Arab world.

I don't really mind that Bush does not apologize to "the Arab world" — "the Arab world" is an abstraction and the apologies that Bush owes are not abstract.

He owes an apology, foremost, to the particular individuals who were subjected at Abu Ghraib to the torture that his administration refuses even to call by that name. ("Abuse and humiliation" is their preferred euphemism — when you begin using euphemisms for torture, you're in pretty deep.) He has said he feels sorry for those people — that's not an apology. It sounds more like the "I wish you hadn't made me do that" of a wife-beater.

And the president owes an apology to many other groups — to the families of these individuals, to the people of Iraq, to the allies of our little coalition.

And President Bush owes an apology to me. And to every American who would like to feel proud of our country without our president and secretary of defense always make it so difficult.

The pictures from Abu Ghraib — and the revelation that this goes far, far beyond the actions of a few "bad apples" or "morons" — has forced every American to react in one of two ways. We are either made to feel ashamed of our country, or else we are forced to rationalize away that shame by reassuring ourselves that we can condone torture and still be good people, and that anyway Saddam was worse.

Somebody owes us an apology for that.

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  • Edward Liu

    I can’t say I understand the rationalizing of Abu Ghraib by saying, “Saddam was worse” or “Look what Al-Qaeda did to Nick Berg.” I understood it as a given that we (America) were above that sort of behavior.
    Even if you grant the initial rationalization, I was really kind of hoping that “being better than Saddam/Al-Qaeda” meant a bit more than, “because we didn’t plug in the electrodes that we attached to your genitals.” I’d add more, but there was apparently rape and there were apparently at least a few gruesome deaths as a result of the “abuse and humiliation.”
    So, yeah, I’d like a better apology than the ones we’re getting, too.
    — Ed

  • Buhallin

    Well said.
    My response whenever anyone says I’m not patriotic these days is simply “I used to be.”
    I hope I can be again.

  • bellatrys

    Well, and they just finished courtmartialing two US Marines for actually *plugging in* the wires and zapping a prisoner for being unruly – he shouted and threw “trash” out of his cell; from other things I’ve read, I think that it’s possible that it’s a euphemism for excrement, and that either he was one of the mentally disabled prisoners, or else I’d bet he was just fed up and furious at being kept in an unsanitary cell.
    This *wasn’t* at Abu Ghreib, either, and it was as late as *this april.* They both got “duck dinners” and one’s going to do a year’s time. (The man survived and was released.)
    This per NPR on my ride just now.

  • Nancy Lebovitz

    Bush also owes an apology to everyone, and in particular including those in the military, who’ve been put at more risk because the abuse of prisoners increases the incentive to fight back and not get captured.

  • Linkmeister

    It’s hard to tell from a transcript, but that “I never apologized to the Arab world” almost seems like a defiant phrase. Is he proud of it, for cryin’ out loud? Or, worse, does that particular audience need to know that to continue backing him?
    In Hawai’i one of the words used to express shock or dismay is Auwe. Seems appropriate as a response to that quote.

  • Patrick

    OF COURSE he’s proud of it!
    He’s EGREGIOUS and I don’t see how anybody can miss it–and a lot seem to not have got it thoroughly through their heads.
    I want him to get even more EGREGIOUS, because that way he may end up teaching Sunday School next January–and in a Sunday School Classroom instead of teaching it from the goddam White House.

  • Sigivald

    Thanks, Patrick. That’s very reasonable.
    I, personally, don’t want the CinC to apologize. He’s already repudiated the abuses
    (Aside: Torture? cheapens the word, which should be used for actual torture. You know, the traditional use of the term in the laws and traditions of war, which is reserved for things that do actual damage rather than being “humiliating”. I won’t equivocate, and I’m glad those who did it are being court-martialed, but let’s not call it torture. Because it fucking well isn’t. If this is torture, what are acid baths and bamboo under fingernails? SuperTorture? Calling abuse and humiliation torture is not euphemism, it’s accuracy. At very least, the case is no weaker than the reverse one.)
    and those responsible are in the process of being punished (and if they get a dishonorable discharge, that’s Just Like A Felony, as a reminder).
    Apologies are not helpful except for making you feel better. The “arab culture” wonks suggest that apologies would be counterproductive to the safety of the troops, Nancy.
    While you may personally be utterly sincere in your concern, I must note that many people don’t seem to be (in that they express such concern only, it appears, when they can make political hay by doing so)… and I find it odd that you blame the President for not apologising, and not the reservists who did the crimes for, er, doing the crimes.
    What is the expected effect of a Presidential apology, anyway? Will the Jihadis start surrendering, if Bush says he’s sorry for what those reservists did? Won’t they just assume he’s lying, anyway? Seriously. What do you think an apology would do to actually, plausibly make the troops safer? I can’t think of any positive effect it would have, and I can easily imagine the “apology = weakness = push harder” effect, which is at very least plausible, could endanger them.

  • Patrick Mullins

    You know, the traditional use of the term in the laws and traditions of war, which is reserved for things that do actual damage rather than being “humiliating”. I won’t equivocate, and I’m glad those who did it are being court-martialed, but let’s not call it torture…Calling abuse and humiliation torture is not euphemism, it’s accuracy. [posted by sigivald]
    I assume you meant “not calling abuse and humiliation torture is not eumphemism, it’s accuracy.”
    I mean, you wanted accuracy…even if it ends up sounding like one of those tortuous translations of Baudrillard when he talks of why an “immoral act” had to occur.