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Holding the Line: The American People Must Set the Standard

Wars are never easy. By definition, they bring with them separation, heartache and loss. And they are never conducted perfectly – as American history from the Revolutionary War forward teaches us.

There have certainly been mistakes in the War on Terror. Among them: Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan; some young and untrained military personnel took inexcusable liberties with prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison; and there have been five documented instances of abuse or irreverent treatment of the Koran at Guantanamo Bay. Quite appropriately, the United States has expressed regret for all of them.

But in the end, the success or failure of the war we’re fighting doesn’t depend on the number (or, for the most part, even the gravity) of America’s mistakes. It turns on the reaction of the American people to them – and their resolve to see that the mission isn’t sidetracked, impeded or destroyed by those who are either indifferent or outright hostile to it.

Sadly, hostility to the War on Terror isn’t the exclusive province of our enemies on the battlefield. Even within the United States, there are those who, for political gain or other reasons, welcome bad news and seek to amplify any setback. Two weeks ago, it was widely reported that executive director of Amnesty International USA had supported the characterization of Guantamo Bay as “the gulag of our time” – a comparison as insulting as it is historically ignorant.

But even worse, just last week, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois took to the Senate floor in high dudgeon, upset after reading about the alleged mistreatment of Al Qaeda suspects. He made the following statement:

If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime — Pol Pot or others — that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners.

What was the “torture” that prompted Durbin to equate Americans with Nazis, Soviet Communists, or Pol Pot’s sadistic minions? Apparently, an Al Qaeda had been chained to the floor, kept in an extremely cold air-conditioned cell and forced to hear loud rap music.

By even mentioning Americans in the same breath as the evil regimes that practiced the most inhuman forms of torture on their own people, Dick Durbin has perpetrated the most outrageous and vile slander on the brave men and women who, not incidentally, are risking their lives to protect his right to speak out in ignorance and malice. He has also handed a priceless propaganda tool to America’s enemies, and may have put American lives at risk through his unconscionable statement.

One need not be a proponent of the war in Iraq or even the War on Terror to believe that Senator Durbin’s remarks are so wrong, so unfair and so damaging that he cannot be allowed to remain in office. It is time for all of us to call for him to resign or to face censure by the U.S. Senate – and continue doing it until we see results. Whatever it is, the official and public repudiation of Durbin’s slander must be significant enough that it demonstrates to the world that America rejects his characterization of our military.

So will Senator Durbin be held to account? That part is up to you and me. There will those in Washington, on both sides of the political aisle, who would be glad to let this entire episode pass as unobtrusively as possible. But for anyone who takes our responsibilities in the War on Terror, the honor of our military men and women – and history itself – seriously, such cowardice is unacceptable.

We must speak up, and continue to do so until we are heard. That’s because we, the American people, are the ones who set the standard of what will be tolerated as acceptable political discourse and what is simply beyond the pale. We – not the politicians, not the media – are the ones who must finally draw the line.

It’s an important job. The identity of America, the cause of freedom, and the lives and honor of American soldiers depend on it.

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Written By

Ms. Liebau is a political analyst, commentator and theOneRepublic / CaliforniaRepublic.org editorial director based in San Marino, CA. Ms. Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review. Her web log can be found at CarolLiebau.blogspot.com

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