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The public and media obsession with victims of Catholic priest abuse, which includes the hounding down of alleged molesters decades after the alleged incidents of abuse occurred, stands in stark and shameful contrast to the almost complete disinterest shown for tracking down the far more vicious abuse of prisoners by their American military or intelligence unit captors.
While the Catholic Church is regularly excoriated for covering up the abuse of altar boys, the U.S. government has gone to great lengths to cover up the crimes of its military officers as well as the civilian leaders who authorized torture, with scarcely any protest.
Yet viewed objectively, which is worse: higher-ups covering up an abuse scandal in which nobody died (at least directly), and which was perpetrated by individuals with psychological problems, or higher-ups covering up the deliberate, premeditated torture and even killing of people by individuals who were acting with the knowledge of and perhaps even under orders from those same higher-ups?
Clearly, where there was direction from the top, as we know was true in the case of torture of prisoners by American forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and other torture venues, and where the cover-up was directed by those same authorities, the crime is far greater.
And yet, we don’t see nearly the public interest in this scandal, don’t see nearly the media coverage, and even when, as happened this week, the top generals who oversaw the whole thing, and who helped try to cover it up, are exonerated by the government, there is little public outcry, as there was when the Roman Catholic Church tried to exonerate the bishops who covered up the sex abuse scandals in their dioceses.
The sex abuse in the Catholic Church, while outrageous, was the result of human frailty. No one organized it. No one defends it.
Compare that with American torture of captured enemy fighters and suspected terrorists. It was clearly organized‹there are memos all over the place, from the White House to the Pentagon to the CIA to senior commanders’ offices in the field, authorizing, encouraging and even prescribing specific types of torture. It was conducted with the knowledge of senior officials, military and civilian. And once the horrors of the torture program were revealed, it was actually defended, not just on the street and in the media, but in the halls of government.
What a fine Christian nation we have become!
We are shocked, shocked when priests or ministers succumb to the temptations of the flesh, and we are outraged when senior clerics try to protect or cover up for the behavior of those spiritual leaders, but we remain largely untroubled by criminal behavior by our military and our government, even when it turns out to have been official policy, and we aren’t particularly bothered if the civilian and military leaders who established that criminal policy just cover up their misdeeds and punish a few lowly scapegoats.
Granted, the torture to some degree gets a free pass because the nation is swept up in a mind-numbing nationalism that has American flags sprouting with a frequency not seen even in China.
Yet there can be no doubt the double standard has as much to do with racism as with jingoism. If it had been white people being subjected to the kind of torture that was (and may yet be) going on at Abu Ghraib in Iraq and Baghram Air Base in Afghanistan, there would probably be far more public outrage than there has been, and more pressure to expose and punish those who authored the criminal policy. In contrast, it was ordinary (white) Americans who were victims of the priestly abuse, making it much worse in the public mind.
There was a country where this kind of mentality prevailed not that long ago. That country was Germany.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org