Even though I'm a dirty, rotten, secular humanist, I feel this
need to sermonize. You may want to stop reading right now.
My sermon grows out of my memory of the Great Mid-Century Scandal
in my hometown. I was 14 years old. I still get the fantods about it.
Here's what happened: the preacher at our largest Protestant
church gave in to wicked temptation, deserted his own wife, and ran off
with someone else's wife. She, along with her husband and two kids, was a
part of the preacher's congregation.
As I remember it, the whole town was in a state of shock. And it
pretty much ended the preacher's career. Imagine how people would have
snorted derisively every time he might mention the Ten Commandments,
especially the one about coveting your neighbor's wife.
It's no overstatement to say his moral authority had been
But that preacher isn't what I want to sermonize about. I
want to sermonize about the connections I see between our current foreign
policy and the preacher's dilemma.
Those connections started dawning on me earlier this month when I
read in this newspaper an account of our State Department's annual report
on human rights. The report, the story said, "criticized dozens of
governments for mistreating prisoners and using practices that U.S. forces
also have used in the war on terror."
Got that? We criticize other countries for doing what we do.
The State Department condemns the "routine use of torture" in
Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. But the story tells us that the U.S. has
"transferred detainees" to those very countries.
So if we don't have the stomach for the "routine use of torture,"
we send our prisoners to countries that do have the stomach.
The State Department report went on to make these charges:
Pakistan mistreats prisoners by "prolonged isolation," "denial
of sleep," "painful shackling."
Egypt mistreats prisoners by "stripping and blindfolding" them
and dousing them with cold water.
Syria mistreats prisoners by forcing them "to stand for long
periods of time."
If all that sounds vaguely familiar, it's because, the story says,
"those tactics also were used and approved by the Pentagon in Afghanistan,
Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay."
According to the FBI, some of our prisoners in Guantanamo "were
shackled to the floor for more than 24 hours." And we're still trying to
forget those pictures that came out of Abu Ghraib.
Other countries have snorted derisively about our hypocrisy:
China suggested that no government responsible for Abu Ghraib had
any business criticizing other countries.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said that "double standards are a
characteristic of the American approach
. Characteristically off-screen
is the ambiguous record of the United States itself."
The Truth, Mainly
The Venezuelan vice president said the U.S. was "not qualified"
to lecture other countries on human rights. "The State Department report
more falsehoods and more hypocrisies
Mexico, Turkey, and Egypt also had unfriendly things to say.
And what, you may wonder, does all this have to do with the
wayward preacher from my hometown? And why should a dirty, rotten,
secular humanist like me care?
Because I keep remembering what Teddy Roosevelt called the
presidency: "a bully pulpit." And I keep remembering how other
presidents have used the office in that way.
George W. Bush, more than any president in my lifetime, sees the
presidency as his very own bully pulpit. But if the disgraced
preacher in my hometown blew away his own moral credibility, this
president may have blown away the moral credibility of the whole nation.
And that's why the story on page 14A of the March 4 Journal-Star
turned me on by helping to counteract the administration's hypocrisy. You
probably remember it.
It's about Capt. Scott Southworth of the Wisconsin National Guard
who visited an orphanage in Baghdad in September, 2003, and found a little
Iraqi boy with cerebral palsy.
(This is about to get wonderfully sticky.)
The captain and the little boy took to each other. The boy began
calling the captain "Baba"the Arabic word for "Daddy."
Capt. Southworth came back to Wisconsin last July, got his
discharge papers, was elected Juneau County district attorney in November,
found an immigration lawyer, and last month returned to Iraq to pick up
his new foster son.
There was a picture with the story. The captain and the Iraqi boy
are in Wisconsin, wrestling on a red, white, and blue bedspread. They're
both laughing their heads off.
OK, thst little story may not have reversed U.S. policy in
Iraq, but it's a start.
And if Scott Southworth ever preaches a sermon, I just might haul
my sorry, dirty, rotten, secular humanist self off to hear it.
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail