A June 5 Washington Times article about the June 4 Presidential Forum on Faith, Values, and Poverty reported that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) said "there is evil in the world -- as seen in the September 11 terrorist attacks -- and said he sees it in the detention camp in Guantanamo and in the prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib in Iraq." Obama, however, did not use the word "evil" in reference to the Abu Ghraib prison scandal or to the Bush administration's "decision to detain people without charges" at the Pentagon's detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Rather, he cited them as examples of how the United States has "act[ed] unjustly."
The Times reported:
Mr. Obama, a senator from Illinois, gave the most political answers of the trio, and the forum gave him a chance to clarify what some have said is an inconsistency in his position about the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
When asked whether God takes sides in a war, Mr. Obama quoted Abraham Lincoln as saying that "we shouldn't ask whose side God is on, but whether we're on His side." He added there is evil in the world -- as seen in the September 11 terrorist attacks -- and said he sees it in the detention camp in Guantanamo and in the prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib in Iraq.
In fact, Obama drew a specific distinction between the "evil" of the September 11, 2001, attacks and the "unjust" actions at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. He also stated that "the danger of using good versus evil in the context of war is it may lead us to be not as critical as we should be about our own actions."
From the June 4 forum, hosted by CNN and Sojourners/Call to Renewal:
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN (moderator/CNN anchor): The president talks a lot, as you know, about sort of good versus evil in war. Do you agree with that?
OBAMA: Well, I do think there's evil in the world. I think that, when planes crash into buildings and kill innocents, there's evil there. I think violence and cruelty, wherever it's perpetrated, expresses evil in the world. And I think that all of us have an obligation to speak to that and act against that forcefully.
Now, there have been times in our history where that requires that we take up arms. I think that the Civil War was a just war. I believe that defeating fascism and ensuring that Europe was liberated was the right thing to do.
What was also interesting about Lincoln, though, during the course of the Civil War, was his recognition that simply because we've engaged in something just doesn't mean that there aren't times where we may act unjustly. Abu Ghraib obviously is something that all of us should be ashamed for, even if you were supportive of a war. I believe Guantanamo, the decision to detain people without charges, is unjust.
And so the danger of using good versus evil in the context of war is it may lead us to be not as critical as we should be about our own actions.