Charles Bird at Obsidian Wings asks:
Can we agree that, no matter how the words are weaseled, putting American in the same sentence with Nazis, gulags and the Khmer Rouge has no place in civil political discourse?
No, we can’t, because Nazism, the Gulag, and the Cambodian genocide all emerged from human decisions, many of which probably seemed reasonable at the time. They weren’t beamed down to the planet by aliens.
“Civil political discourse” is about what we’re doing, where we’re going, and who we are. When our own FBI agents are reporting that American soldiers are chaining prisoners in fetal positions for 24 hours or more, leaving them to roll in their own shit and piss, it’s not unreasonable to wonder what we’re doing, where we’re going, and who we’ve become.
When Deputy Associate Attorney General J. Michael Wiggins asserts that “It’s our position that, legally, they can be held in perpetuity,” it’s not unreasonable to wonder what we’re doing, where we’re going, and who we’ve become.
And while we’re wondering, it’s extremely not unreasonable to note how this kind of thing has come about in the past.
Observes Bruce Baugh in the comments to Bird’s post:
There was a time when the Nazis and Soviets had each slain just a few—they didn’t leap from the end of World War I straight to Auschwitz or the gulags. There was a time when they were doing just what our troops and non-military people are doing right now, on precisely the same moral trajectory. Because in each case, they were led by people who decided that their cause was so important, all means could be allowed.
Yes, it’s a slippery slope argument. Guess what. Sometimes, you’re on a slope, and you’re sliding.
Last word (for now) from the increasingly excellent Brad Plumer:
The outrage over Durbin’s remarks—and Amnesty’s “gulag” report before that—is, to be perfectly frank, one of the most asinine and depressing episodes I’ve yet had the misfortune to witness in my brief time following politics. Cut the crap. Durbin very obviously wasn’t calling American soldiers Nazis; no one more sentient than a deepwater sponge was genuinely confused about this point. It’s also clear that Durbin’s words, whatever you think about it, isn’t a “propaganda victory” to the terrorists. I know it’s in vogue for “serious” thinkers to believe that “the terrorists” are slumped around headquarters, devoid of propaganda material, and waiting, just waiting for the Senate Minority Whip to give them something that will reinvigorate the movement. It’s a grand little theory with just one minor flaw—it’s not true. […]
When actions carried out by our military interrogators can be confused with even the most “minor” of atrocities carried out by some of the worst regimes in history, then no, that doesn’t make our soldiers Nazis or a Soviet thugs, but it does mean it’s time to worry. When our op-ed pages are filled with academics and other pseudo-intellectuals taking pains to point out exactly how we differ from Nazi Germany—how our torture is quantitatively different from their torture; how our enemies are worse than their enemies; how at least we haven’t killed 13 million people yet—then yes, it’s time to worry. The issue isn’t whether or not we’re the same as Nazis, because we’re clearly not; it’s whether we’re different enough.