Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Obama's Nonsense About Torture Photos

Today, President Obama decided not to release more of the Abu Ghraib torture photos that we found so shocking a few years ago:

The Obama administration changed direction today, announcing that it would oppose the release of photographs showing the alleged abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The administration this month had agreed to release dozens of the photographs, but reversed course after top military officials said they were concerned that the photos could put U.S. troops in jeopardy, particularly in Afghanistan.

In an about-face, White House opposes release of alleged prisoner abuse photos

First off, I'd be remiss not to point out that this wouldn't be the first time that politicians have hidden behind what the military supposedly advises in the last few years. Not all that long ago, many in the Bush Administration were proposing that we should trust the military to tell us when it was time to get out of Iraq. There is no way that I can respect a statement like this, or trust it. It represents an abdication of responsibility at best, or an outright lie at worst. They know the military, by tradition, won't openly contradict what they've said. It's an easy and feckless excuse.

Second, the story doesn't make any sense. Gregg Levine writes:

A couple of points here: First, it isn’t the photos; it is the acts themselves that put US troops in danger. The abuse is widely known among Iraqis, and those inclined to act don’t need photographic evidence as justification.

BREAKING: Obama Does 180 on Release of Abuse Photos

There are already plenty of photos to fire up the opposition. You'd have to be an idiot to buy into the idea that more of them is going to make things that much worse. There have been stories circulating on the Internet, and even in the news, about the prison for terrorism suspects that the U.S. military is maintaining in Baghram, Afghanistan. That's the subject of the film Taxi To The Dark Side. As the ACLU's Amrit Singh is quoted as saying by the Los Angeles Times:

"The decision to not release the photographs makes a mockery of President Obama's promise of transparency and accountability," said ACLU attorney Amrit Singh. "It is essential that these photographs be released so that the public can examine for itself the full scale and scope of prisoner abuse that was conducted in its name."

In an about-face, White House opposes release of alleged prisoner abuse photos

For continuing to be an apologist for torture while pretending to oppose it, President Obama gets to see his photo next to another of the Abu Ghraib torture photos.

UPDATE: In what I can only describe as one of those ironies that American politics seems to produce endlessly, Democracy Arsenal reports that the United States has joined the United Nations' Human Rights Council:

The Human Rights Council has been a controversial organization since its creation, three years ago. It was created in 2006, replacing the disgraced Human Rights Commission. The council has received a great deal of criticism for focusing its scrutiny on Israel and for not acting on the most pressing human rights issues of the time, including Darfur. Critics also accuse the council for being hypocritical, since many of its members are human rights offenders themselves. So rather than help shape the organization from withing, the Bush administration chose to stay out of the council, making this America’s first time seeking a seat.

U.S. Joins the Human Rights Council

[emphasis mine]

On second thought, I suppose it's to be expected.

UPDATE (May 15): Glenn Greenwald provides further evidence for why the argument that these photos might further inflame the opposition in Iraq and Afghanistan is stupid. Unless you live completely in the bubble created by the American press's restraint about reporting the effects of our wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, you'll know most of it already. Unfortunately there are a whole lot of people in that bubble.


Millionaires Of Genesis said...

I applaud the president on this move.

What good would release of the photos do to anybody? The troops would be punished and our reputation would take a serious hit. These photos would be degrading to the people of the Middle East where most of these prisoners hailed from. It would have been a lose-lose situation.

This is one of the first moves where I support the president 100%.


Cujo359 said...

As with so many things that are kept secret, we don't know what value they might have. It's quite possible that they could be used to implicate government officials who ordered these actions. Given both Obama's and Bush's behavior, this seems the most likely motivation.

Our reputation has already taken a serious hit. It has taken that hit because we won't face up to what has been done, and take the appropriate action. Hiding behind the notion that this will do the troops more harm is both stupid and cowardly.