She believes that how we treat prisoners in the global war on terror is unlikely to have a serious adverse affect on how people think of the United States.
Ms. Hughes, longtime Bush confidante and now Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, told the House of Representatives International Relations Committee that the United States treats detainees humanely and in compliance with US laws and values.
In response to a question from Rep. Gary Ackerman, a Democrat from New York, she added, "We were sickened as the rest of the world was by the pictures from Abu Ghraib. Democracies are not perfect, but we do hold people responsible."
One of the Congressmen reminded Ms. Hughes that the people of the Arab Street are smart they know when theyre being conned. They should; theyve been being conned for years by their own repressive and authoritarian governments. And, despite the self-serving propaganda of government-owned media, they also know that their governments rarely hold anyone responsible or accountable for mistreating prisoners, much less sending them to jail.
But this is a phony comparison. We are not supposed to be them. We are supposed to be us. We are supposed to act to a higher standard.
When people have access to that kind of information, it gets harder and harder to con them.
Yet the best Congress could get from Ms. Hughes was that We heard a lot more about the crimes than about the punishment and the assertion that We treat people humanely and that getting them to understand that was a challenge.
It would be a challenge even if we told the truth unvarnished and un-politicized. But if we continue to deny that what happened really happened, then the millions we spend on so-called Public Diplomacy will be a shameless waste.
Furthermore, the impact is not only on foreigners. What our country does affects Americans as well.
Nobody has made that case more poignantly than David Ignatius, the columnist for the Washington Post. Heres what he wrote just before Thanksgiving:
When I lived abroad, Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday. It was a chance to scrounge up a turkey, gather foreign and American friends, and celebrate what America represented to the world. I liked to give a sentimental toast when the turkey arrived at the table, and more than once I had my foreign guests in tears. They loved the American dream as much as I did. I don't think Americans realize how much we have tarnished those ideals in the eyes of the rest of the world these past few years.
The public opinion polls tell us that America isn't just disliked or feared overseas -- it is reviled. We are seen as hypocrites who boast of our democratic values but who behave lawlessly and with contempt for others.
I hate this America-bashing, but when I try to defend the United States and its values in my travels abroad, I find foreigners increasingly are dismissive. How do you deny the reality of Abu Ghraib, they ask, when the vice president of the United States is actively lobbying against rules that would ban torture? Of all the reversals the United States has suffered in recent years, this may be the worst.
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