12 out of 13 Ain’t Bad

Twelve past Nobel Peace Prize winners are asking a 13th member of their club to ensure that the Central Intelligence Agency’s upcoming report includes information about harsh interrogation US government tactics following 9/11.

While these 12 Nobel laureates seem to understand the moral imperative of transparency and simple human decency, even during the so-called “war on terror,” the 13th — the face of a murderous, imperial presidency — is widely regarded as having tainted the award.

The other 12 winners understand, as does any decent person, that neither democratic votes nor Nobel Prizes license one to bomb, spy on or torture innocent people. Unfortunately the 13th winner disagrees and he’s the one with his finger on the trigger of US military might and intelligence operations.

The previous winners say American leaders “have eroded the very freedoms and rights that generations of their young gave their life to defend.” While the notion of young people giving their lives to protect Americans’ freedom is based on a misreading of America’s foreign policy and why most wars are actually waged, the laureates’ sentiments are correct. American leaders, especially the 13th awardee, have completely torched Americans’ liberties.

What these 12 peace advocates seem to understand, and what the commander in chief either doesn’t understand or utterly dismisses, is that people are of equal moral worth. Regardless of color, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, intellectual ability, wealth, stature or election record, every human being is fundamentally equal as regards moral status.

This insight goes a bit further than the commonly repeated phrase, “equality under the law,” though. While that’s a nice ideal, far superior to the current state of affairs, it doesn’t fully capture the above moral fact. As Roderick Long writes, “… equality involves not merely equality before legislators, judges, and police, but, far more crucially, equality with legislators, judges, and police.”

I would add soldier, CIA operative, president and Nobel Peace Prize winner to that list.

Engaging in and justifying torture is only one evil measure in a long list of actions the US government has taken in the war on terror. The 12 Nobel Peace Prizers are correct so far as they go – releasing information regarding the torture that America engaged in is important – but they really only scratch the surface of government violations of liberty.

Transparency after the fact won’t make the victims of inhumane interrogation tactics any better off. It won’t change the institutional problems that allow government to get away with unaccountable torture in the first place. And it certainly won’t address the 13th winner’s other policies that are anything but peaceful.

While it’s commendable and positive for the Nobel-ers to urge transparency in the upcoming CIA report, a sense of proportion is vital. Forgetting the US government’s countless other evils over the last 13 years would be a major moral failure.

After all, if the government doesn’t have the moral authority to torture people and keep that information from the public, how can it have the moral authority to spy on people, detain people indefinitely or carry out drone strikes that kill children?

What on Earth could grant a person the moral authority to do those things, especially if we are of equal moral standing as I assert above. Hopefully someone asks this to lucky number 13 at the next White House press conference. And hopefully he takes a hard look at his track record compared to the records of  his fellow Nobel Peace Prize winners.

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