The act was cruel and barbarous in the extreme. A videotape of it, posted on more than a few radical Islamist websites this afternoon Eastern Time in North America, shows 26-year-old Nick Berg (no relation, by the way) of West Chester, Pennsylvania (a suburb of Philadelphia)- dressed in what can only be described as a pastiche of prison garb- reciting his name and the names of members of his family and next seen bound hand and foot, seated on the floor, while five hooded men stand behind him, the one in the middle reading an evidently prepared statement in Arabic. The reader of this statement claims that he and his cohorts are part of an Al-Qa'eda cell operating in Iraq and that Mr. Berg was offered to the Bush Administration in exchange for Iraqi prisoners held at the very prison that is the focus of the still-festering Prisoner Abuse scandal only to have this proposed exchange refused; suddenly, the reader pulls out a long knife, decapitates Mr. Berg and then parades with the severed head about the room as the videotape ends. It is all eerily reminiscent of the assassination of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan.
This act naturally raises the anger of all who have heard about it, even where they have not seen it. I myself am angry: very angry, indeed! But my anger is then tempered by the realization that this has occurred in the midst of the Iraqi Prisoner Abuse controversy and that there is, therefore, no little danger in being too angry. For the many apologists for jackboot and truncheon tactics on this side of the Pond are now already coming out of the woodwork, citing this sorry and most inhumane episode as nothing less than an excuse for America's possibly violating its own traditions of Justice and Rule of Law: though, truth be told, this was already starting even before the videotape of Mr. Berg's execution came into the public consciousness.
In this morning's session of the continuing Senate Armed Services hearings on the Prisoner Abuse issue (again, before the video of Mr. Berg's murder had been widely disseminated on the Internet), Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) talked about being "outraged over the outrage", wondering aloud why we all were so focused on what a small number (or so the Senator claims) of military personnel had done to a relative handful of Iraqi detainees while American soldiers were dying under fire from insurgents and even American civilians in Iraq were being tortured and murdered (no doubt the video of Mr. Berg's demise has only bolstered the Senator's feelings as he himself stated them)-- all true enough but, at the same time, only making sense if one were actively seeking justification for the mistreatment of those in our custody. Over this past weekend, a friend of one of the soldiers now facing court-martial in the Iraqi Prisoner Abuse case was widely quoted as querying as to why, when such insurgents and terrorists in Iraq were regularly committing horrible misdeeds against our fellow countrymen and our coalition partners, misdeeds as bad- if not worse- than that which was done to Mr. Berg, we Americans should be held to a higher standard of conduct.
I will answer this very question, right here, right now:
We Americans are held to a higher standard of conduct because we (to quote the old Hebrew National television ad) have to answer to a higher authority. For we are the very People who once declared, as a self-evident truth, that all "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights" and we, these same People, once ordained- and continue to maintain- a Constitution intended to, among other things, "establish Justice" and "secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity". The simple fact is that we Americans can't deny Justice, Liberty and unalienable Rights to others, even if they happen to be the most scurrilous malcontents picked up by our troops halfway around the globe.
But I did write, this past 7 May, that "I know my country and I know my fellow countrymen... at least I hope I do!"; I also wrote that "I fear worse things to come, an even deeper shade of the darkness such acts [that is, the Iraqi Prisoner Abuse] display" and these fears of mine are now quite far from being allayed. One of the Senators from the late Mr. Berg's home State, Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) took to the floor of the Senate and described those who executed Mr. Berg as "subhuman"; in truth, there may be no more accurate description than this-- but I then turned over to one of the cable news channels just after watching Senator Specter's statement on C-SPAN only to see a former CIA operative explaining that Americans "have to understand" that those who oppose us are, indeed, "subhuman" and that, as a result, things might have to be done to those in our custody and under interrogation, things which we Americans don't ordinarily like having done in our name. Unfortunately, there is a rather thin line between thinking someone is "subhuman" and that same person being thought of as not even human to begin with and, when that line is crossed, those who have so crossed it have extended themselves into the range of "subhuman".
Yet old drivel is once more coming to the fore, much of it mindlessly seeking to aid an Administration in crisis for political ends but at least some of it clearly seeking to justify, if not outright excuse, actions along the lines of that which took place at Abu Ghraib Prison. We are beginning to again hear the same phrases we heard in the wake of 11 September 2001: that "the world has inexorably changed", that "this is a different kind of war", that- because our enemy seemingly has no conscience- perhaps we ourselves might be able to abandon our own, at least every so often. Well, I'm sorry (though, truth be told, not all that sorry)-- but, what these people are selling, I'm not buying! After all, *I* don't remember the Constitution of the United States having been repealed; *I* don't recall our no longer adhering to the Geneva Conventions, to which the United States of America is a signatory (and which, as "Treaties made... under the Authority of the United States", are part and parcel of "the supreme Law of the Land" under Article VI of our Constitution). Just because our enemies might include those who have the unmitigated gall to cry out Allahu akbar! ("God is most Great") even as they so openly deny the unalienable Rights endowed by that very God to their victims (as those who murdered Mr. Berg have done), doesn't mean that we should then sink to their level or even think of approaching such a low, no matter how minimal the effort to do so or how distant the approach.
Acts such as the cowardly and despicable homicide placed for all to see on the Internet today do not excuse or justify any admittedly lesser acts of inhumanity on the part of Americans such as those I addressed in my 7 May Commentary. To try and downplay these within the shading of that most horrific act I described at the start of this piece only serves to dishonor ourselves. We should bring those who killed Mr. Berg to Justice; we should, at the same time, continue all due efforts to bring those who committed the Iraqi Prisoner Abuse to Justice as well. Utilizing the one to justify or excuse the other is merely the highest art of folly!