American exceptionalism is an ideology holding the United States as unique among nations in positive or negative connotations, with respect to its ideas of democracy and personal freedom.
By that definition the United States (America is two continents) can be exceptionally good or exceptionally bad.
Here’s an example from the same Wikipedia article on a way some people think we can be exceptionally good.
Yale Law School Dean Harold Hongju Koh has identified what he says is “the most important respect in which the United States has been genuinely exceptional, about international affairs, international law, and promotion of human rights: namely, in its outstanding global leadership and activism.” He argues:
To this day, the United States remains the only superpower capable, and at times willing, to commit real resources and make real sacrifices to build, sustain, and drive an international system committed to international law, democracy, and the promotion of human rights. Experience teaches that when the United States leads on human rights, from Nuremberg to Kosovo, other countries follow.
And here’s an example from Charlie Pierce on how we are today.
The United States Is a Country That Tortures People
By Charles P. Pierce, Esquire Magazine
May 9, 2018
The children of the Senate Intelligence Committee certainly were treated to some ripping yarns on Wednesday, when Gina Haspel came to tell them the scary bedtime stories that qualify her to run the CIA. We had shadow warriors, and far-flung outposts, brush passes, dead drops, and dusty alleys, and dark moonless nights. If the hearing had gone on 10 minutes longer, John le Carré’s attorneys might have dropped in with an intellectual property action. Then, of course, they all went into executive session, where they could all talk about the really cool, really super-secret spy stuff that the rest of us can’t know about, but are obligated to pay for. And, ultimately, there was one basic message to come out of this hearing to the world.
The United States is a country that tortures people. It is also a country that arranges for other countries to torture people. We did in back in the Bush administration and we’ll do it again, if you scare us deeply enough and there are enough hack lawyers in the Department of Justice and the White House Counsel’s office to draft memos to cover our asses. The United States is a country that tortures people, and we’ll do it again, under the right circumstances. We’d just rather it not make the papers, is all.
Haspel, it is said by the very serious people who think serious thoughts on television, did very well. She pledged that the CIA would never “go back” to torturing people again, a worthless promise under any president, but particularly under this one. Who is going to stop them next time? The same people who failed to stop them the last time? It is to laugh. The statement was also stunningly beside the point. The question was about torture that we’ve already inflicted, and that she was intimately involved in.
She made sure we all knew the Khalid Sheikh Muhammad was a very bad man who killed “a Wall Street Journal reporter who was an American.” (Curiously, she never mentioned Daniel Pearl’s name.) KSM came up every time the questions about torture came too close to being about actual torture, the subtext being, of course, that there are people who deserve to be tortured, even though we don’t torture anyone anymore, and we never will, and we can depend on Gina Haspel and Donald Trump for that. I’m convinced.
The problem with torture is not that it is inefficient, though it is. The problem with torture is that it is a violation of moral and ethical codes to which this country abided literally since its founding. (George Washington didn’t forbid the torture of British captives because torture “doesn’t work.’ He did so because it was wrong.) This simple formulation got lost in all the spy novel underbrush, and Haspel’s endless repetition of how it was bad, and we’ll never do it again, but, while we’re on the subject, let me tell you how bad the people we tortured really were, and how many lives we saved by waterboarding someone over 100 times.
That was the basic pitch and yaw of the whole morning. Her presentation was logically absurd and morally preposterous, but people listened and nodded along as though what she was saying made perfect sense. But it didn’t, as this exchange with Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, made clear.
REED: If one of your operatives was captured, and subjected to waterboarding, would you consider that to be moral since, perhaps, the other entity did not have legal restrictions, and good tradecraft, as you appeared to do when you were involved in it previously?
HASPEL: Senator, I don’t believe the terrorists follow any guidelines or civilized norms, or the law. CIA follows the law.
REED: You seem to be saying you were not following civilized norms and the law and anything else when you were conducting those self-same activities, if that’s the analogy you’re going to draw.
HASPEL: Senator, I’m sorry, can you repeat that?
REED: Very simple. You have an operations officer who’s being waterboarded. I’ve asked you very simply, would you consider that to be immoral, and something that should never be done, condoned, in any way, shape or form? Your response seems to be that civilized nations don’t do it, but that uncivilized nations, or uncivilized groups, do it.
REED: This civilized nation was doing it until it was outlawed by this Congress.
HASPEL: Senator, I would never obviously support inhumane treatment of any CIA officers. We’ve lost CIA officers overseas to terrorists. I just gave an example. Khalid Sheikh Muhammad personally killed a Wall Street Journal correspondent and filmed that. I don’t think there’s any comparison between CIA officers serving their country, adhering to US law, and terrorists who, by their very definition, are not following anybody’s law.
A few things.
First of all, we filmed our torture, too, but those videos were destroyed. Gina Haspel supervised the destruction of some of them and, if you think her answer to Reed was lame, you should go back and see the tap-dance she does on that issue.
Second, she only answered half of Reed’s question before ducking behind Daniel Pearl’s corpse to hide from the rest of it.
Third, by her very answer, she is saying that, if the United States tortures people, it is somehow a morally superior act to random butchery, because we have compliant lawyers drawing government salaries far from the black sites of Poland and Thailand. What distinguishes us morally from butchers in the desert is that our government used to employ John Yoo. Glorious.
So the question is- exceptionally good or exceptionally bad?
Feel free to note that Harold Hongju Koh was Legal Adviser of the Department of State in the Administration of Barack Obama who, along with Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, are Accessories After The Fact for Torture because they conspired to cover up this War Crime.
Bonus points for including that the torture regime implemented by Gina Haspel, Station Chief at a CIA Black Site in Thailand, included involuntary Rectal Hydration and Feeding- in other words, Anal Rape.