The Unrelease

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Iraq War, Middle East, Obama Administration, torture

I’m about to butt heads, and not with righties. I understand there’s a lot of anger at President Obama because he changed his mind about releasing more prisoner abuse photos. I respect a difference of opinion on this matter.

But I also think the reason given for the reversal is understandable — commanders warned that the images could set off a deadly backlash against American troops. Even if it’s only a small chance this would happen, I might have made the same decision President Obama made. If something could stir up more violence against U.S. troops in the Middle East, and doing that something isn’t absolutely imperative for the survival of the nation, I would think twice about it, too.

Thers writes, “So there will never be a “good” time to release them. Release them now and face the music.” The ones “facing the music” are in Iraq and Afghanistan, and while there might never be a “good” time to release the photos, there ought to be a “better” time, which is after most troops are withdrawn.

I realize this isn’t going to happen right away. But, at the same time, it isn’t as if we don’t already know there was terrible prisoner abuse, some of which caused deaths. I don’t personally need to see any more photos. I can barely look at the ones that are in circulation already.

So, I don’t think the President’s decision necessarily means that he’s got a Dick Cheney microchip planted in his head. What’s more important is that there are investigations into who ordered what, and who knew what, and who approved what.

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31 Comments

31 Comments

  1. M@  •  May 14, 2009 @12:57 pm

    So you’re saying that American decisions should be made based primarily on whether those decisions will (potentially) harm Americans? How exceptional.

    I hate to sound so hostile, but American exceptionalism led directly and inevitably to the current mess in Iraq. More of it isn’t going to help things. Do the right thing now, bow your heads and accept the rightful moral outrage, and try to move on.

  2. joanr16  •  May 14, 2009 @1:21 pm

    I hate to sound so hostile

    Well, that didn’t take long. And from a newbie, too.

    This wasn’t an “American” decision; it was a decision made by the President of the United States. The president is the commander-in-chief of American military forces. If, by action or omission, the president unreasonably endangers his troops, he should have to answer for it as their commander. Obama was faced with lose-lose here.

    Of course, that isn’t the end of it. The decision may deserve plenty of moral outrage. But moral outrage without a full review of the facts is just noise.

    First, Obama made a decision for the good of his troops. Bush never did this. (And we were always angry at Bush for that, remember?)

    Second, Obama knows he’ll take a lot of heat for his decision, but he did it anyway. Can’t argue it was done to please the base, that’s for sure.

    Third, Obama is in no way responsible for the acts committed in those photos. It cannot be said honestly that he was acting to cover his own rear.

    Fourth, Obama is plenty smart enough to know the ACLU likely will get the photos released eventually, anyway. The history of court decisions against the Bush administration’s conduct in “the war on terra” supports this. If you think this is just Obama passing the heavy lifting on to someone else… review my second paragraph above. Commander-in-chief. Responsible for the troops.

    Fifth, the administration’s additional reason, that release of the photos could damage a criminal case against the torturers, is perfectly valid from any honest prosecutor’s point of view.

    Now. If Obama wants to send a positive message, he needs to work with Congress to actually bring the architects of torture to justice. I suggest that the moral outrage be channelled to bring that about. Just bitching, without clearly thinking the matter through, serves no one.

  3. maha  •  May 14, 2009 @1:23 pm

    So you’re saying that American decisions should be made based primarily on whether those decisions will (potentially) harm Americans? How exceptional.

    Oh, please. I’ve got plenty of moral outrage. And I’ve been arguing against American exceptionalism for years. You must be new here.

    Look, dimbulb, American citizens have a responsibility to American troops to see to it that they aren’t put in any more danger than they have to be. That has nothing to do with exceptionalism, but with the social compact the citizens of any democracy have with its military.

    We’ve already blown that responsibility by sending them to Iraq. We don’t need to compound the error.

    Let’s assume the photos show stuff that is even more depraved than the original photos. Now, how will that change anything that hasn’t already changed? People who were aghast at the original photos will be more aghast. People who shrugged off the original photos will shrug these off, also.

    How will policy decisions change? Investigations already are imperative; that doesn’t change. Releasing the photos might cause a small spike in public opinion in greater favor of investigations, but we need to weigh that against potential danger against U.S. troops, to which we as citizens have a responsibility.

    Otherwise, I say looking at awful photos interests me a lot less than thorough investigation of how the abuse came to take place and who is complicit. I doubt very much the photos show us that.

  4. LongHairedWeirdo  •  May 14, 2009 @1:24 pm

    Really, the proper time to release the photos is after prosecutions have occurred. “See, the people who did this were severely punished!”

    Alas, there won’t be any, which makes it harder.

    One other note: Obama will probably find it politically useful to have opposed the release of the photos, even if he’s forced to release them. “Well, I tried to stop them, but they forced me! Now, I know this makes the Bushies look bad, but gee whiz, did you want me to defy the power of the courts?”

  5. maha  •  May 14, 2009 @1:30 pm

    Really, the proper time to release the photos is after prosecutions have occurred. “See, the people who did this were severely punished!”

    Do you honestly think any of the people who need to be held responsible are in any of those photos? That Dubya and Dick and Rummy went to those prisons and got their pictures taken with a pile of naked prisoners? Please.

  6. Pat Pattillo  •  May 14, 2009 @1:31 pm

    Haven’t you guys heard? The issue you are discussing is moot. The cat is out of the bag. The photos have been leaked and have appeared in a Sydney, AU paper and you will vomit.

    This is not waterboarding it is gore and ends once and for all the “it’s not torture” question.

    It is rare that I ahve uttered the simple phrase “This changes everything”…the morning of 9-11 and finally now. Just think of what this now sets in motion.

  7. Pat Pattillo  •  May 14, 2009 @1:33 pm

    I am probably bungling this by recalling from memory but:

    Those who can be convinced of absurdities can be led to commit atrocities

    – Voltaire

  8. joanr16  •  May 14, 2009 @1:55 pm

    The photos have been leaked and have appeared in a Sydney, AU paper

    Pat, where are you hearing this? I’ve looked all over the Web for news sources in various countries and see no mention.

  9. freD  •  May 14, 2009 @2:10 pm

    The hardcore religious/political ideologue will use anything they can get their hands on. We all remember this:
    http://www.snopes.com/rumors/bert.asp
    Wingnuttia at it’s finest.

    But seriously, messed up behavior at the rank and file levels usually means something’s dysfunctional higher up. Regardless of the ‘garnering political support for investigation’ vs. ‘limiting ammo for the islamo-wingnut’ debate, investigation into cause is the right thing to do.

    And why the hell is Cheney being so defensively gabby lately?

  10. k  •  May 14, 2009 @2:24 pm

    It doesn’t matter whether or not we see the pictures. what matters is that the right people responsible for the ‘abuses’ are prosecuted- the only thing interesting about the pictures are the OGA( other government agencies) personnel involved that are standing there in those pictures. the fact that only the lowest ranking were prosecuted for Abu Ghraib and the really responsible got off, is the real problem.

  11. Swami  •  May 14, 2009 @2:33 pm

    The pictures aren’t important for the documented abuse they show… It’s establishing that the abuse was the policy and not the act of a few bad apples that really matters. The fact that Bush vigorously hide them from the public tends to create the perception that the pictures expose Bush’s lies, and that to continuously keep them hidden continues to cover Bush’s lies.

  12. maha  •  May 14, 2009 @2:37 pm

    Pat — I can’t find the photos either.

  13. c u n d gulag  •  May 14, 2009 @3:24 pm

    maha,
    I’m with you on this one. This wasn’t a leader trying to dodge something that might put his Administration in a bad light. This President was told this might make something worse. We should be glad for a President who listens.
    The pictures will see the light of day, probably sometime soon. We can all wait. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before – UNFORTUNATELY!!!
    What we should all hope is that nothing like this EVER happens again!

  14. felicity  •  May 14, 2009 @3:49 pm

    You got it, maha. We’re so used to the lemming mentality of the right wing, that any time a lemming decides to avoid the cliff and live to enjoy another day (and perhaps save his fellow lemmings in the process) , he’s (for sure) a socialist.

    That said, I continue to wonder and ask, if anyone knows, why pictures of torture victims were taken in the first place. Answer anyone?

  15. M@  •  May 14, 2009 @4:21 pm

    And from a newbie, too.

    I’ve commented before and I’ve been reading this blog for a long time. In fact, I’ll go further — I’m a fan. Normally, I agree with the opinions expressed here. I disagree this time.

    I’ve got plenty of moral outrage. And I’ve been arguing against American exceptionalism for years.

    I share your outrage and I appreciate your willingness to legitimately criticize your own country. That’s why I objected in the first place — and you anticipated that kind of objection in the first lines of your post. This post seems completely at odds with your usual point of view — as I tend to read it, anyhow.

    Whether American soldiers are put into greater danger — a dubious prospect, honestly, when there are so many other things for people to be upset with the US about — is of trivial importance at best. (And in general, American soldiers are very, very good at protecting themselves.) This is not in any way about them.

    The US has had, for a long time, the moral obligation to come clean about its torture policies. We all knew it wasn’t going to happen under the last regime. When it comes to this regime, hiding and delaying and ducking isn’t going to help, however it is spun or justified. In fact, it’s probably going to make things worse when the photos eventually do come to light, whatever the circumstances are by then.

    And I have to disagree: this does smack of American exceptionalism, when the putative safety of US soldiers outweigh the country’s other obligations. I have a hard time believing that any American would be as sanguine if the roles were reversed with any other country in the world.

    Look, dimbulb,

    Huh.

    American citizens have a responsibility to American troops to see to it that they aren’t put in any more danger than they have to be.

    And citizens of any other country have no such responsibility. I’m not American. Why would I care about them any more than any other citizen of the world? Why would you expect anyone but Americans should be fine with this special pleading to justify a broken promise?

    Otherwise, I say looking at awful photos interests me a lot less than thorough investigation of how the abuse came to take place and who is complicit.

    Here we agree, absolutely.

  16. idlemind  •  May 14, 2009 @4:36 pm

    If what is coming out now holds up — that torture was used in an attempt to find “information” justifying the Iraq invasion and that its instigation came directly from the Office of The Vice President — we’ll be in a whole different game vis a vis torture.

    We know it was bad — people died or were permanently maimed. The pictures won’t increase our knowledge. They will, of course, be all over the media, and though that might increase the pressure for prosecutions just a bit, I think that it could divert attention from more damaging revelations that torture was used for political ends and that perhaps those “torture memos”
    were produced to to justify atrocities already performed.

  17. uncledad  •  May 14, 2009 @4:43 pm

    Maha,

    I agree I think Obama did the right thing by not releasing the photos for 2 reasons.

    1. As you and many others have stated, the potential harm that could be caused not only to our troops in the field, but also Obama’s chances to get these god dam wars over with already, pissing off the civilian populations more isn’t going to help anyone.

    2. Politically it could only hurt Obama. The fucks that support Cheney et-al are not going to be disheartened and embarrassed by the offensive photos, like most normal Americans would be. They would be whooping it up saying hell yeah fuck those towel-heads. Yeah torture hell yeah (they say it on FAUX every night, just coded better).

    What’s really sad is the shitty media we have focuses on how releasing the photos would be so bad, but very little time is spent on the fact that if bu$hco had not ordered these abuses we would not be in the situation! Duh.

    Obama did the right thing, now the next thing he needs to do is appoint a special prosecutor and wash his hands of the whole god dam affair.

  18. Steve Hynd  •  May 14, 2009 @5:19 pm

    Via my co-blogger Ron Beasley and Washington’s Blog:
    http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2009/05/here-are-few-of-torture-photos-obama.html

    I discovered today that some of the “unsensational” photos Obama doesn’t want released appeared in the Sidney Morning Herald three years ago.

    http://www.smh.com.au/news/world/photos-us-doesnt-want-seen/2006/02/14/1139890737099.html

    (Click on “related coverage” for photo gallery. 15 pics in all.)

    Obama just flat-ass lied about the pics being “unsensational”. One shows cigarette burns on a detainees back and ass, another has a man with “Im a Papeist” (sic) written on his thigh in the foreground while two others are naked and hooded. Most show detainees who are bloody, battered and burned.

    Regards, Steve

  19. dianne  •  May 14, 2009 @5:34 pm

    There is a link at Buzzflash. I didn’t open it up – can’t bear to see anymore than I already have – so I don’t know if these are the pictures in contention.
    I agree with you. The pictures can wait till we are out of the warzone. Our soldiers don’t need anymore grief than they already have.
    Of course, the graceless Repubs are already crowing about how Obama caved. It is all politics with them.

  20. Steve Hynd  •  May 14, 2009 @5:51 pm

    “The pictures can wait till we are out of the warzone”

    The current consensus estimate by military expets like David Kilcullen for US troops staying in Afghanistan is at least 15 years.

  21. maha  •  May 14, 2009 @6:03 pm

    Steve Hynd — If the photos at the Sydney Morning Herald that you link to are indeed the same photos that Obama doesn’t want released, it pretty much proves my point — there’s not a thing in them that is substantially different from what we’ve seen before and that we didn’t already know had gone on. However, releasing them might inflame sentiment against the troops.

    I think a lot of people need a time out today.

  22. Ian  •  May 14, 2009 @6:36 pm

    Whether American soldiers are put into greater danger — a dubious prospect, honestly, when there are so many other things for people to be upset with the US about — is of trivial importance at best. (And in general, American soldiers are very, very good at protecting themselves.) This is not in any way about them.

    Well, speaking as the brother of one of those American soldiers, I’d say the importance is a tad bit more than “trivial”.

    An American, speaking about American politics, supporting a decision one way because the other way would tend to unnecesarily risk the lives of American soldiers is NOT “American Exceptionalism”.

    If we were to say that the lives of our soldiers are ALWAYS of higher priority than ANYTHING else, that would be exceptionalism. Nobody here is saying that.

    -me

  23. Steve Hynd  •  May 14, 2009 @7:00 pm

    Maha, June 25, 2007:

    “I know a few things about evil… I know it is seductive, for example. Most of the really great evil ever done in the world has been done by people who thought what they were doing was good and justified and righteous. The 9/11 attacks are a classic example. Torture, including torture sanctioned by any part of the United States government, is another example…Another thing I know about evil is that evil does not recognize itself as evil. It denies truth and makes excuses. It doesn’t take responsibility.”

    I submit that denying release of the pictures is denying truth, making excuses, and not taking responsibility for the consequences of America’s national actions – even if done with the best of intentions.

    Regards, Steve

  24. erinyes  •  May 14, 2009 @7:40 pm

    Maha, I respectfully disagree with you on this one.Perhaps I am a mental midget, because I don’t understand how persons who have been on the receiving end of cluster bombs, hell fire missiles, white phosorphus shells, mid night raids, an extend military occupation, and the previously released torture photos would be even more offended by the release of the current “enhanced” photos, and would be even more inclined to harm our soldiers.These photos will eventuially make their way into the press, if only outside the U.S.
    It seems to me that the best remedy is to release the photos, prosecute all involved (from the buck private to the former occupants), and publically hang the sons of a bitches. If we don’t prosecute, we stand for torture, thuggery, and the dark side of all humanity. Obama is getting pressured by the Pentagon and the CIA to not release the photos, to do so would inflame the home boys and squelch the push in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
    “I was following orders” didn’t cut it at Nuremburg, it doesn’t cut it today.
    But this won’t happen, the country’s screwed, and mankind is just a tribe of killer apes.
    We are in the biggest funk since the great depression, and the new pres wants to escalate the South Asia/Central asia theater, we are STILL in Iraq, and no end is in sight there. The Kurds are at odds with the Iraqi puppet Government regarding oil production;’ The “cleansing” for the TAPI pipeline is under way.
    It took me a while to realize it, but c’est la guerre. I am but a worm in the great apple………..

  25. ozonehole  •  May 14, 2009 @8:22 pm

    The photos should be released without delay. Only by doing so will the pressure for prosecutions be stepped up considerably. It was the 2004 release of the Abu Ghraib photos that appalled the world and put pressure on the Bush administration to prosecute “the few bad apples” (low-level military personnel). Releasing the rest of the photos will hopefully result in a special prosecutor being appointed to prosecute the “Big Fish” (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfield, Yoo, etc) who authorized this torture in the first place.

    I don’t see how the release of the photos will endanger the troops. Al Qaeda and the Taliban aren’t suddenly going to gain effective new abilities to kill American soldiers because of the photos. They are already doing all they can to kill Americans. If the photos result in prosecutions, that might even assuage Muslim anger at America. If the photos result in American troops being pulled out of Iraq and Afghanistan (which I want to see) to keep them safe, that’s all for the good.

    Obama is kidding himself if he thinks that not releasing the photos is in any way going to help him win points with America’s right-wing nuts. They hate him passionately simply because he’s a Democrat, and black, and a “socialist.” They don’t care what his policies are – he’s unacceptable unless he joins the Republican Party.

  26. Steve Bates  •  May 14, 2009 @8:45 pm

    Perhaps I missed it, but did no one in this thread mention that Obama was releasing the photos in response to the decision of a federal court in an FOIA lawsuit? Are you saying that Obama has the unilateral authority to defy a federal court order? I thought we were done with that sort of thing when Mr. Bush departed the premises. Or am I misunderstanding something?

    (Aside: I’m a first-time commenter, maha, but you’ve been on my blogroll approximately forever. – SB)

  27. Doug Hughes  •  May 14, 2009 @8:51 pm

    Barbara – You’re right and I want to put in my 2 cents worth. (Put it on my tab.)

    A lot of bloggers have not moved mentally from local politics to geopolitics. Releasing the pics feels good in a nasty vindictive way. I can relate; I am frequently a nasty vindictive liberal. (No Buddhist tendancies, I’m afraid.)

    But sit at the table of international politics, and you discover there’s more players than Rush Limbaugh. Obama has effectively been letting the air out of the tires of the jihadist war wagon. He’s made direct appeals on a Moslem holiday to declare directly that the US is not at war with Islam. The Immans who WANT Jihad are looking for an issue to enrage the Muslim world against the Great Satin. (Kinda like conservatives complaining about mustard on your burger, but writ much larger.)

    Now you and I can discuss that the pictures are not new, that it did not happen on Obama’s watch. Do you think that the radical clerics who want war are going to be objective and fair? Or wil this be new propaganda they will try to twist? My guess is that the funds and recruits for the Jihadist movement are in decline since Bush stopped recruiting for them with torture & redition which had the entire Moslem world riled as a hive of angry bees.

    The worst thing that could happen to the Obama presidency is a Jihadist attack on American soil. We must not give them graphic material to use in propaganda. Obama mase the right call.

  28. LongHairedWeirdo  •  May 14, 2009 @9:09 pm

    Do you honestly think any of the people who need to be held responsible are in any of those photos? That Dubya and Dick and Rummy went to those prisons and got their pictures taken with a pile of naked prisoners? Please.

    I did not say that “those who did this” was limited to those identified in the pictures. I assumed that I didn’t need to spell out that the worst criminals were people like “Dubya and Dick and Rummy”.

    But, if I need to:

    “The best time to release those photos is after the people responsible for the abuses pictured in them have been prosecuted – this, of course, includes people like Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, because as anyone who’s not a total fucking moron realizes, they were ultimately responsible for this. Alas, there will not be any prosecutions. But had there been appropriate prosecutions, we could point to how the perpetrators had been severely punished.”

  29. LongHairedWeirdo  •  May 14, 2009 @9:16 pm

    Ozonehole:
    Obama is kidding himself if he thinks that not releasing the photos is in any way going to help him win points with America’s right-wing nuts.

    I don’t think he expects it to help. But I do think that meekly releasing them without a fight could have hurt.

  30. maha  •  May 14, 2009 @9:24 pm

    I submit that denying release of the pictures is denying truth, making excuses, and not taking responsibility for the consequences of America’s national actions – even if done with the best of intentions.

    I submit that we know the truth already, that nobody is denying anything except for righties, and in their case release of more photos won’t matter.

  31. maha  •  May 14, 2009 @9:28 pm

    And citizens of any other country have no such responsibility. I’m not American.

    I am, and I’m stating my opinions.

    And if you are, for example, a citizen of the democratic republic of Freedonia, your responsibility is to the soldiers of Freedonia. Would that be an example of Freedonian exceptionalism?

    Why would I care about them any more than any other citizen of the world?

    You wouldn’t, but neither do you seem to grasp what “American exceptionalism” actually is.

    Why would you expect anyone but Americans should be fine with this special pleading to justify a broken promise?

    I wouldn’t, but this is an issue between American citizens, our soldiers and and our president.



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