What is the importance of an apology? Are apologies merely politically expedient? Or do they have some more fundamental purpose or role in remedying mistakes? What kinds of mistakes can be fixed by apologies, cheapest and what do you do when you’ve made a mistake that an apology can’t remedy?

I was thinking about this in context of W. and Rumsfeld’s apologies to the Iraqis tortured at Abu Ghraib. In discussions with some people, viagra 100mg I have found that they are heartened by the fact that the U.S. apologized. The apology suggests that this was an aberrant mistake, not our way at all. And it differentiates us from the other torturers (Saddam Hussein) and killers (those who slaughtered poor Nick Berg), who have yet to say they are sorry.

I believe there is a difference between an individual’s sincere apology and a national apology for a policy error. A sincere apology from an individual who made a mistake may mean personal redemption, or begin the process of forgiveness. This was the revolutionary idea behind the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But a politically expedient apology (after refusing to do so on Arab TV) by a nation that voluntarily toppled a government purportedly to “liberate” people and then failed to put any safeguards in place to make sure that those liberated people were actually treated humanely, ignored complaints from the Red Cross about abuses (at best) and affirmatively refuses to comply with the rules established by the Geneva Convention doesn’t mean much of anything at all.

More generally, I see a difference between the responsibility our country must take for its actions and the responsibilities that individuals in Iraq bear. There is an asymmetry of power here, which predicably provokes a vicious kind of response in the weaker party. As an occupied people, some Iraqis simply don’t want us there, and they are using whatever means they have to get us out. This is what war against non-nation states, which probably will happen more and more, looks like.

Still, common practice and the law have historically imposed on the more powerful party and nation states a responsibility to behave in a civilized way that the angry, vengeful and unorganized individuals can not be expected to act. The question we have to answer as a society is whether responding to the asymmetric threat of terrorism changes that calculus. e.g. Since they don’t have to follow the Law of War (euphemistically called, if you can believe it, International Humanitarian Law), neither do we. But of course, this has nothing to do with Iraq, since the fight there is not about terrorism, but about our ongoing occupation.

On an interesting similar note about when an organization is responsible for the criminal actions of its members, the U.S. Department of Justice has indicted Greenpeace under a 1872 “sailor mongering” law after two of its members boarded a ship allegedly carrying illegally harvested mahogany to place a protest banner there. Its “funny”, isn’t it, that Greenpeace should be prosecuted for the acts of its members, while Rumsfeld continues to enjoy the support and devotion of the Bush White House.