Human Dignity Applies to All
From "A Man For All Seasons":
Sir Thomas Moore: "What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?"
Young man: "I'd cut every law in England to do that!"
Moore: "And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned on you -- where would you hide?"
I guess sometimes we have to state the obvious. We have to reiterate truths that we assume that most people know but which begin to be forgotten, or were never learned, by far too many people, as some recent letters to the editor suggest.
Human rights are universal. They are not given to us by our government or our constitution or by having the good fortune to have been born in certain countries. They are ours simply by virtue of being human. Democracy and human rights are the two key pillars that give countries like ours such tremendous advantages and strengths. Called "liberal democracies", they are not just democratic. Equally important they recognize that each human is just that, human, and they should be treated as such, that their innate rights and dignity should not be violated.
While our constitution applies only to our citizens, our Declaration of Independence lays out the universality of those rights: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights..." In fact that document was our way of reminding the government of England that we, as humans, innately have these rights and they had no business violating them from across the sea.
When we give up those principles we undermine the pillars that give us strength. We become just another nation pursuing our own interests. Perhaps a nation with a more heavily armed military, but still, just another nation.
When we act in the world as keepers and emissaries of those principles we act from our strength and we have the best chance of winning not only any war we truly need to be in, but also the best chance of winning the peace.
Certainly when we are under attack we have the right to defend ourselves, sometimes with deadly force or, when possible, by capturing our enemy. Once we have them captured and incapable of doing further harm we can try to get what information we can out of them, but it is simply immoral to abuse other human beings. Yes, even if some of them might have done despicable things to our people. Immoral to do it, immoral to put some naive underling in the terrible position of being ordered to do it, immoral, and abhorrent, to create a policy of doing it and then pass the blame down to those ordered to do it.
Some people like to say that the constitution is not a suicide pact. That there are times when rules have to be suspended in self defense. Well that's a complicated topic and there are some rules in some circumstances that need to be flexible. But there are others that are so fundamental that you cannot break them, or if you do you weaken yourself. No one would question that making a pact with the devil to beat terrorists would be a losing proposition. These human rights, which we long ago acknowledged that all people have, these are our pact with a higher principle.