Last Sunday, 60 Minutes aired an update to its story on Joe Darby, the Abu Ghraib whistleblower. I hadn't been familiar with Darby's role in the scandal at the infamous prison, and the mortal danger he placed himself in just by doing the right thing.
He and his wife were forced to move from their hometown of Cumberland, MD, to an anonymous location because fellow soldiers, angry neighbors, former friends, and even some of the Darbys' own relatives might seek revenge.
Critics call him a "rat" and "traitor" for supposedly placing the welfare of "the enemy" before U.S. soldiers. They are idiots. What Darby did was place respect for the rule of law first, as it should be according to our country's principles. For those whom that's too abstract an idea, Darby explains his actions in a simple way that makes me really admire and respect him. "We're Americans," he says, "...we hold ourselves to a higher standard."
The idea that the U.S. is special for just that reason, because we expect a higher standard than merely what is convenient, is one that I have always cherished. It's what makes us the "good guys" and separates us from Putin's Russia or communist China. And it's why the U.S., since World War II, has been looked upon as a leader by the rest of the world.
Given the status of the Iraq war and other developments around the world, many people are arguing that the U.S. has lost its preeminent moral standing in the world. Such a claim belies the high esteem the American people are held in throughout most of the world, as well as the positive agendas our government is involved with (for example, democracy promotion, foreign aid, and the Bush admin's commendable effort to fight AIDS and malaria in Africa).
The major blemish currently on our record involves the Bush administration's handling of terrorism suspects outside of a traditional legal framework. At the least, it is burdensome negative PR and phrases like "waterboarding" and "extraordinary rendition" are awkward additions to the American idea of justice. Gitmo's defenders (see also) are somewhat convincing at making a technical argument for the legality of indefinte detainment and military commissions. I doubt that anyone wants to say much about the proliferation of CIA dark sites though. One can only hope that these are relics of a temporary and uncertain era, and the sooner that we can commit them to history's scrap heap, the better.
Which brings me back to Joe Darby's idea of the United States. We're not perfect. We did have slavery, Jim Crow, the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, and other problems that persist today. But while America in practice has its blemishes, I'm proud that over the long run we always seem to be moving more toward America the ideal, a place where we set higher standards and serve as a great example of human potential.