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THURSDAY, JANUARY 27, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Senators insult both Rice and our wartime dead

Birmingham-native Condoleezza Rice responded appropriately to senators during confirmation hearings during which the topic of the day — actually several days — was torture.

Ms. Rice, responding to attacks about treatment of prisoners in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, held her ground.

"Nobody condones or excuses what happened in Abu Ghraib," Ms. Rice said. "The problem of how to deal with unlawful combatants, though, in a different kind of war, is frankly a very difficult problem."

Americans understand the complexity.

While Ms. Rice testified, news of a terrorist's arrest brought home the other side of prisoner treatment.

One of the top Iraqi insurgents, a man who assembled hundreds of car bombs that have killed United Nations officials, Iraqi police, Iraqi leaders and far too many U.S. soldiers was arrested in Baghdad.

The captured terrorist has information not just about past bombs, but also about bombs not yet used. He knows where bombs are located and where leading terrorists are stationed. Should U.S. officials say "please" when they ask for information that, if obtained, will save U.S. and Iraqi lives? Should they permit him a phone call to his attorney? Should they make sure he has plenty of soap and running water?

This nation is justly proud of its form of government, a workable democracy tempered with individual rights. We want to serve as a beacon, an example that encourages the oppressed to shake loose totalitarian bonds.

But we also want to protect our own. We have sent others to Iraq to fight in our stead, and they are dying. We may not be able to bring them back to their loved ones, but we do have the ability to take all possible measures to protect them.

There is an argument that we should treat every captured terrorist humanely. There is also an argument that we should treat our own soldiers humanely by maximizing their odds of a safe return.

The issues are painfully complex and, as was the case in the Vietnam War, we will agonize over them long after the war ends.

Senators know the issues are complex, too. Their role in biting comments to Ms. Rice may be partisan politics, but they also serve to remind the government that taking shortcuts leads to unacceptable conduct.

There are legitimate reasons to go by the book.

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