The Release of Torture Photos: Is It a Good Idea?

Andrew Sullivan weighs in on Obama’s decision to suppress the release of torture photos:

The critical point of releasing the photos is that they will help break through to the American public just how endemic the abuse and torture of prisoners under Bush was. It was everywhere, in every field of combat, committed by every part of the armed services, and in identical fashion: no blood no foul, along the lines of the torture and abuse techniques specifically authorized by Bush. Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld sent a very clear message that spread throughout the entire military and CIA: terrorists are beneath even baseline Geneva protections, any prisoner might be a terrorist, so do to them what you will. Rewards will go to those who secure “intelligence” regardless of how it’s gotten. Freeze them, beat them, starve them, shackle them, heat them, strip them, destroy them. As an email sent to all military interrogators in Iraq put it, “The gloves are coming off gentlemen regarding these detainees. Col. Boltz”—Colonel Steven Boltz, the deputy MI commander in Iraq—”has made it clear that we want these individuals broken.”

And so they broke them. The point of the photos is not to demonstrate more gore; it is to have a fresh opening to explain to Americans just how widespread this was, and also to remind them that this led to the deaths of scores. But against this important public interest, the president has another duty – to his soldiers in the line of fire. These soldiers deserve a chance to do their astonishingly difficult job without inflaming those who might be inspired to kill and attack them. I see no reason to suspect that Obama is not genuine about this question, and it’s a fair factor to consider. More importantly, he has not said that suppressing the photos at this time means suppressing them for ever, and has not indicated that he will prevent justice being done. In fact, his statement said the opposite.

And here’s Matt Yglesias:

I don’t have a great deal to say about this business of Obama refusing to release photos of detainee abuse. I briefly had myself convinced that this is a complicated issue, but it really isn’t. There ought to be an overwhelming presumption that the American people have the right to see the facts about what our government is doing in our name, with our money. There has to be some secrecy in the name of national security—it’s good that we don’t publish our nuclear codes or the details of the presidential security detail—but the notion that vague invocations of national interest or policy expediency should be permitted to sweep things under the rug is repugnant.

Of course if you want to think about why this is happening, ask yourself when’s the last time a politician lost an election because he was too deferential to the attitudes and institutional prerogatives of the national security apparatus of the United States. I don’t think it’s happened since the early 1970s. And it’s a not a coincidence that back then we got FISA and the Church Committee and so forth. But until it happens again, things will get worse and worse and worse in general even if there are spots of improvement.

Both guys were rabidly anti-torture, and both want to have the photo’s released.  But, I think Andrew is right to suggest that Obama’s politicking of the issue isn’t wholly unwarranted.


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