Selective indignation

January 03, 1991

In his interview with David Frost last night on Maryland Public Television, President Bush was in high dudgeon, and properly so, over a new report by Amnesty International documenting atrocities committed by Iraqi forces in occupied Kuwait. The president fairly seethed as he rattled off the litany of horrors of rape, murder and torture.

To our knowledge, this is the first time either Bush or his mentor, Ronald Reagan, ever recognized Amnesty International in public. But anyone familiar with the organization knows that its reports cover not just Iraq, but scores of countries around the world where brutal regimes terrorize helpless citizens. Right now, for instance, the regime in Argentina talks of pardons for the generals who carried on a reign of terror throughout the 1970s. The atrocities committed there were equal to those Bush ascribed to Iraq last night. The same can be said of El Salvador, where a rightist regime still receives immense sums of American aid. But when countries that are our "friends" are involved, we fall back on Jeane Kirkpatrick's hypocritical formulation that "authoritarian" regimes are more tolerable than "totalitarian" ones.

Until we can denounce rape as rape, without regard to the status of perpetrator or victim; until we can say murder is murder, without regard to ideology; until we can call torture torture, without regard to whether the perpetrators or victims are our friends or adversaries -- until we can do these things, Bush's denunciation of Iraq's atrocities will carry the hollow ring of hypocrisy.

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