Open Thread

I’ll be away until Sunday. Talk away.

24 thoughts on “Open Thread

  1. Previous blog seemed closed to comments. Just got off work. I was quoting Hartmannn show with regard to photos and I expected them to be all over the corporate media sites but no….

    Hartmann claimed that the Sydney Morning Herald had published them and I did not find them there. I went to his site and found this link embedded way down in a blogs comments:

    http://georgewashington2.blogspot.com/2009/05/here-are-few-of-torture-photos-obama.html

    Methinks he’s got some ‘splainin’ to do…sorry to have posted that without following up first. I am waiting to hear him reconcile what he said on the air.

  2. I’d like the opportunity to respond, too. I think I’ve been sufficiently polite in my disagreement, and the ad hominems I’ve received do not match the promise to respect differences of opinion in the matter.

    What I mean by American exceptionalism is the USA’s insistence — at times, over some issues — that the rules that apply to others don’t apply to them. It’s not necessarily a Bush thing, though that was easily the best example of the syndrome. And I don’t necessarily disagree all the time; the USA has a particular position in the world that’s not always easy to equate to other countries’. The USA’s unwillingness to join the world court seems like a reasonable and understandable position, for one — certainly worthy of discussion.

    And the real problem is that this can be used for anything. It would be legitimate, to take the logic further, to avoid investigating and prosecuting Americans for torturing if it meant that it would make Americans (soldiers or otherwise) potentially less safe around the world. I’m not denying that it would, nor do I approve of it. But it’s really not relevant.

    So in response to another comment, no, American exceptionalism is not “our soldiers are ALWAYS of higher priority than ANYTHING else”. It is giving the USA or its citizens special status — for example, that their safety is of an importance not granted to (or considered for) people from other countries.

    Finally, I need to tell you, Ian — I served for three years in the Canadian military, and plenty of friends and colleagues have gone to Afghanistan — one was killed in 2006. I’ve published books on Canadian peacekeeping and military PTSD. I have also worked for the resisters campaign here in Canada, trying to keep American military resisters safe from prosecution. (The Canadian government is sadly complicit in this.)

    I tell you this to establish that I’m not anti-military, I sympathize with you and your family, and I do care about the safety of your soldiers as much as I care about the safety of all soldiers. I’m sorry if I sounded otherwise; it wasn’t my intent.

    But it’s important to separate the issues. Unfortunately Obama is, as far as I can see, using your soldiers as a convenient political excuse. I obviously disagree with others here on this score — so be it. The discussion is worth having.

    I appreciate being able to say my piece, and I’m sure I’ve overstayed my welcome by now. Thanks.

  3. [email protected], I didn’t mean to be offensive in my reply to you yesterday, esp by calling you a “newbie” when you weren’t. I don’t recall ever seeing your comments, and I do visit here almost daily (for 5 years)… must have missed you previously. I apologize.

    Yesterday morning on NPR, I heard two reasons given by the administration for withholding the photos at this time. The relative importance of the reasons was determined by the emphasis each media outlet gave in its report. Many are not mentioning the second reason at all.

    We all know that one reason was the safety of military personnel, and I do stand by my argument that the president sometimes has to make decisions solely thinking as Commander-in-Chief. However, most commenters are ignoring the fact that the administration also argues that release of the photos would prejudice any future prosecution of those behind the torture.

    I’ve had the feeling for some time that the administration hasn’t given up on prosecution. I cite the step-by-step release of the legal architects’ torture memos that builds a case in public opinion, now-just-citizen Cheney’s defensive (and I would say frightened) response to that release, and now the mostly-ignored reason for withholding the photos. I very much want prosecution to happen, and I haven’t given up on it myself. I certainly don’t want the public dissemination and discussion of relevant information, however horrific, to be the reason prosecution fails. In any criminal case, release of prejudicial information before trial is instant death to the prosecution.

    I’m also troubled by the continued confusion of the facts. Last evening, in the previous post, commenter Steve Bates linked to the ACLU site, and incorrectly stated that there was “a decision in a lawsuit” requiring the release of the photos. A “decision [judgment] in a lawsuit” results in case law, e.g. Plessy v Ferguson. The ACLU link mentions no case law, and Google revealed none either. There has never been a lawsuit in this matter. What the linked article does say is that, in 2007, the ACLU filed a motion, and received a judge’s ruling that ordered the CIA to release photos under the Freedom Of Information Act. A motion like this is the next step, after a FOIA request was denied or ignored by the (specifically) stated recipient (in this case the CIA). The 2007 ruling under the FOIA would have been quite limited in scope. The linked article repeatedly states that Obama “broke a promise,” and never says or implies that he was legally obligated to release the photos, which I believe was the point Steve Bates wanted to make. We should remember that the ACLU’s mission is not to bring bad guys– even torturers– to justice. They aren’t prosecutors, and they don’t think that way. Sometimes their actions run counter to prosecution, and this is one of those times.

    As for the photos apparently published in an Australian newspaper a few years ago, the provenance of the photos is questionable. If/when our government releases photos, there will be no doubt that they do in fact show victims of torture that was ordered by the Bush administration. This is exactly the kind of information, any honest criminal prosecutor will tell you, we don’t want disseminated before a criminal trial.

    Again, I understand the moral outrage. Again, I urge everyone to consider channeling that outrage into demanding that the perpetrators be prosecuted. When the photos can no longer prejudice such proceedings, they’ll be released.

  4. Joan said, I’ve had the feeling for some time that the administration hasn’t given up on prosecution. I cite the step-by-step release of the legal architects’ torture memos that builds a case in public opinion…

    I have been saying the same thing. Obama couldn’t simply order Holder to investigate – that would be considered a political vendetta. He needs to be dragged into this involuntarily, kicking and screaming. To that end, they seem to have released the bare minimum of documentation – only a handful of memos from a six year period – to allow anyone with an open and inquisitive mind to connect the dots between the White House and torture and to bring public opinion to bear.

    The recent stories linking Cheney’s office to requests to waterboard POWs (not “terrorists” and not covered by the OLC opinions), after the Iraq invasion, to provide evidence of a Saddam/Al Qaeda connection, just might be the tipping point. (1) They had no link and they lied about it (we all knew this, but now there’s good, first-hand evidence). (2) They were willing to torture POW nationals, and may have actually tortured POW nationals, in contravention of explicit international treaties and their own legal opinions, to get this link. (3) These requests were a “push” from the White House, not a response to requests from interrogators as they’ve insisted in the past. (4) The evidence trail leads directly to Cheney’s office. As with Nueremberg, you don’t go after the “bad apples,” you go after the guys who issued the orders.

    We need to keep up the pressure, but we also need to have some patience and let this play out. Our understanding of what’s been going on has grown considerably in under four months. But these things take time.

  5. …actually, joanr16, the paper trail of the ACLU effort runs roughly along these lines:
    The ACLU and co-petitioners filed a FOIA request with the Department of Defense for release of detainee abuse photos in 2003. The Bush administration denied the request, so the ACLU et. al. filed a FOIA lawsuit in Federal District Court (Southern District of New York) in 2004 seeking the release of those photos. The ACLU won that lawsuit, so Bushco appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. A three judge panel upheld that District Court decision, and Bushco’s subsequent request to have the full Second District Court of Appeals hear its appeal was denied…

    Here is the pdf of the ACLU et. al complaint, which is conventionally referred to (including in the US Justice Department Guide to FOIA) as a “lawsuit”…

  6. Hi. I’ll weigh in one more time…

    Some of you seem to think that Obama will eventually go forward with these prosecutions. While I can’t say definitively that he won’t, my feeling is…he won’t. So far, Obama has shown himself to be “the great compromiser in chief.” It’s not just torture photos, but almost everything, most significantly, he’s “Bush lite” when it comes to economic policy. He’s pretty much giving Wall Street whatever they want, which is trillions in “loans” that will never be paid back.

    I also recall, way back before the presidential election, how he compromised on telecom immunity. I was more than a little upset about that one – I began supporting Nadar. It was fully my intention to vote for Nadar, but at the last minute in the voting booth, I decided to go with Obama. I just didn’t want to be part of another photo-finish election decided by the Supreme Court (to appoint McCain/Palin as president).

    I keep hoping that Obama has some trick up his sleeve – that he’s going to turn around and really give the righties what they deserve (ie jail time) for their many crimes (torture, theft, corruption, etc). I think a lot of you are convinced he’s going to do that. Sadly, I think it’s wishful thinking. I’m afraid that we’re going to be disappointed. We shall see.

    One of my best friends has concluded that the Republican Party really arranged for Obama to win the election, in order to stick the Democrats with the blame for the inevitable fall of America (that the Republicans have caused with their corrupt policies). Although I’m not yet willing to go that far (because I can’t believe that the Republicans are that competent), the theory doesn’t sound so far-fetched.

  7. Jack, you are correct that there was a 2005 lawsuit and decision re the release of certain torture documents. This case law is not mentioned anywhere in the ACLU’s press release that is linked in Steve Bates’s comment in the previous post. I think I understand why. I found the decision online (the PDF of the whole thing is below). The judge defines its scope this way:

    This Opinion addresses five categories of issues that are disputed:
    (1) the DOD’swithholding of reports and documents relating to the International Committee of the Red Cross; (2) documents relating to the DOD’s interrogation activities; (3) the CIA’s refusal to confirm or deny the existence or possession of certain documents; (4) the CIA’s representation, with regard to documents relating to a request by former CIA Director Tenet to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld that a certain Iraqi suspect be held at a high-level detention center and not be identified, that there are no meaningful, reasonably segregable portions of the documents that are not exempt from production; and
    (5) the DOD’s withholding of photographs taken by Joseph Darby at Abu Ghraib prison and provided to the Army’s Criminal Investigative Division.

    Entire decision:
    http://www.nysd.uscourts.gov/courtweb/pdf/D02NYSC/05-05912.PDF

    It still wasn’t clear to me that the case applied to the photos the ACLU wants released. I searched New York Times articles hoping for clarification. It appears the ACLU wants the government to release many more photos than the ones mentioned in ACLU v DOD. The Pentagon made an agreement with the ACLU to release additional photos, then reneged (the “broken promise” the ACLU mentions).

    What is clear is the ACLU will fight on. Thanks to Jones v Clinton they may name the president as a defendant, if necessary. (My only question there is: why the hell didn’t anyone ever sue Bush?)

  8. ozonehole, I’m not convinced that the administration will or won’t do anything in particular. I only know if the government publicly disseminates prejudicial information such as photos of torture, there definitely will not be convictions of anyone responsible for the torture. That’s the nature of a criminal trial. Your and my considerably divergent views of Barack Obama aren’t relevant to that fact.

    I am curious, though: the government releases the photos, and what happens then? I’m not asking rhetorically, I really am interested in your projected scenario. Would the photos lead to some sort of “truth and reconciliation” process? Ideally, after the photos are released, what should the administration say to the rest of the world? (What on earth could they say, I wonder.) What alternate actions do we take as a nation, having ended the possibility of criminal prosecutions? I have to ask, because it’s not enough just to get those photos released. That, as a goal, completely ignores the cause of justice.

  9. Andrew Sullivan asks a simple rhetorical question at The Atlantic. The article is aimed at torture apologists, but I think it’s instructive for the Obama administration as well. Had this happened, the administration would certainly want to “bring the perpetrators to justice” and they would have support across the board.

    So, are we hypocrites or not?

    The Bush administration did positive harm to America’s prestige with their torture program. If the Obama administration does nothing about it, they’ll do further damage. I’m know I’m setting myself up for real disappointment, ozonehole, but I prefer to believe that they will act on this in a way that is not perceived as a political vendetta by the 67% of Americans who are rational. The way it’s playing out would be one good way to go about that, in my opinion. I remain hopeful.

  10. Well at least the EPA has finally forced General Electric to start cleaning up their PCB pollution in the upper Hudson River.

  11. Oh my dear Maha friends, the irony.
    In our country, you can get impeached for having consentual sex with someone other than your wife.
    You can be thrown out of office for having sex with a call girl.
    Your wife is battling cancer and you have an affair? Game over.
    Humans and most animals come into the world with the proper equipment to have sex. I have never heard of a baby born with a gun.
    We wouldn’t even consider allowing our kids to watch a sex movie.
    If a soldier talks of how many times he has had sex, and provided details, we’d be shocked.
    soldiers having sex with other soldiers? OUT of the military!
    Torture,, perhaps torture to death? Prosecute the perps?
    Well, that may be viewed as a political vendetta, oh no! Can’t have that!
    WTF!!!

  12. To Do List

    Save the Global Economy
    Wind Down War In Iraq
    Ramp Up War in Afghanistan
    Stabilize Situation in Pakistan (They have Nukes)
    Restart Peace talks in Israel
    Stop Iran from joining ‘The Nuclear Club’
    Health Care for all in the US
    Formulate/Implement a coherent Energy Policy
    Save the US Auto Industry
    Fix Education in the USA
    Prevent the Chaos in Mexaco for spiling over to the US
    Select Supreme Court Justice

    ………. People, no president since FDR has juggled as many critical issues in the first 100 days. I can find fault with a LOT of the decisions & compromises. If you want to operate in a single-issue vacuume, you can find some fault in the way Obama has handled EVERY issue. But look at them in totality, and in context. He has to work with Congress, he has to maintain his popularity with the public to have any chance on the big items where Congress has to sign the check.

    Compared to Bush on every issue there is a trend in the direction I want the US to go, maybe not as fast or as forcefully. But it all trends in the correct direction. And there’s no statute of limitations on what the previous administation did. And no profit in using political capital in prosecuting Bush when you NEED that support to pass the programs you campaigned on.

  13. Since the previous post is closed to comment: I understand the reasoning behind your decision, and if that’s the reason Obama is doing it (instead of using the courts as cover to avoid more hostility from the right), then I understand that too, and have some modicum of respect.

    But, as a soldier; and an interrogator, I disagree.

    Is it possible the release of new photos will lead to an uptick in violence. Yes.

    But I also think keeping them secret will lead to more violence. Perhaps not as dramatic (which is to say densely timed), but violence nonetheless. I also think the second sort of violence will be a slow simmer, needing only minor adjustements to bring it to the boil.

    All in all I think the people who will get violently upset will also get it out of their system, while the continued effort to refuse to admit to what happened (which is how it plays in the Middle East, if not in the rest of the world) will continue to be an irritant, and create more people who are simmering; waiting for that little something else to reach the boil and do something to get revenge.

  14. I dunno.. is it even up to Obama? I thought his reason for releasing some of this stuff was because the courts said to release them. I think his reasoning for not releasing all of the abuse photos was sound. I know even as a US citizen from birth they upset me. I can only begin to imagine what they would do to someone from another country.

    Anyone else thinking it is odd that the water boarding thing has turned into a Pelousi thing? It isn’t like she was in charge or could even change what the majority party was doing. I don’t believe she would have been allowed to leave the briefings and spew out what was said in them either. I think it is odd that we keep hearing about it, unless someone is thinking the CIA broke the law and it should be investigated.

  15. Terry, I didn’t know we were denying it. I thought we were saying yes it happened, and no it isn’t the way we do things.

  16. the way it appears to me is that people all over the world have seen these photoes and already know more about these abuses than the american people because they get better news coverage than we do after all we ve come to realize that the american media is a propanda machine yes or no?

  17. dont think for a minute that aljezeera, hasnt gotten their hands on the photoes and proof that americans now like to torture people and coseqently so has everybody in the middle east because thats the newspaper they read

  18. Jugheadjack: first, Al-Jazeera isn’t a newspaper; it’s a television network. Second, we’ve already discussed the previously released or supposedly leaked photos. Numerous photos were released of the atrocities at Abu Ghraib prison, and were widely seen in the U.S. as well as around the world. The handful of photos printed in a Sydney, Australia newspaper a few years ago are the supposedly “leaked” ones. That story appears to have died pretty quickly, because not only did the U.S. media not pick it up, it doesn’t seem to have generated much discussion elsewhere in the world. That suggests to me that the origin of the photos is murky, possibly untrustworthy. Once the U.S. government releases the photos they have, there will be no doubt about origin or content.

    s, it looks like the court case is ongoing, as there are further levels of appeal. Near as I can tell now, it’s the government that will have to appeal, and news stories indicate they will do so. If the question goes before the current, right-leaning Supreme Court, they’ll likely side with the position of keeping the photos under wraps. Unless the right-wing justices think the “uptick in violence” that Terry Karney mentions will be so damaging to Obama, they’ll order the photos released.

    Like I said in my original comment on the previous post, Obama was, and will be, in a lose-lose situation with this one.

  19. Well…I too have been reading/enjoying this site since 2000. Thanks MAHA. I enjoy reading the comments of others and do not really ever post a comment myself. I feel compelled to do so now.
    I followed the link on the previous post. The pictures are disturbing. But they are no different than what goes on in U.S. Prisons/Detention Centers/Jails. As a citizen employee of a Police Department I take photographs of peoples injuries. Sometimes these “injuries” occur because someone “resisted” or did not “follow instructions”. Some of these photographs look similar to what I see on a regular basis.
    What the World is not seeing are the photographs that would be too explicit and too graphic to be shown. (ie:rapes (with foreign objects), murdered civilians (while in US custody))
    The “troops” will be in no more danger than they already are. I am also prior military, and have contact with friends that are still serving. Sorry MAHA but you missed this one. OBAMA needs to quit playing politics, and let Americans see for themselves what our Government has done in our name.

  20. It’s extremely frustrating to see that so many of us believe Obama’s decision re these photos constitutes a cover up of the Bush administration’s torture practices. A cover up, now, would be closing the barn door when there isn’t a barn door, because the barn’s already burned to the ground.

    A well-known documentary was released two years ago on the Bush administration’s torture practices. It’s called Taxi to the Dark Side. It was nominated for an Academy Award. It can be rented or downloaded instantly from NetFlix. It’s widely available for purchase. It leaves nothing much to cover up. It does leave a powerful need for justice.

    One last time: the photos in the government’s possession could become important evidence in a criminal investigation and trial. The release of these photos would be prejudicial to such proceedings, and could create a situation in which there’s no longer a venue, or an impartial jury, to hear them.

    Somewhere in between moving public opinion toward seeking justice, and “screwing the pooch” in that pursuit, comes a delicate balancing act of what to release or withhold for now. Even without the arguable question of inflaming retaliation against innocent parties, there’s a need to keep the possibility of justice alive.

  21. you are right baddkonig and joanr16 now that you ve told me what aljazeera is it dosent matter i think we can both agree that they are not our friends . and if they have pictures of us tourturing and im sure thet do. dont you think they have already shown them . making president o bamas excuse for not showing the photoes a mistake

  22. jugheadjack: Al Jazeera is only, “not our friends” if you posit a more binary world than I am willing to. Al Jazeera is a news organisation. They seem to be much more objective, and neutral, than several of the large (and apparently, respected) news agencies in the States.

    s: I didn’t say denied, I said refused to admit. There is an important, if subtle distinction. We don’t deny tortures took place. We refuse to admit just what they were. We say, actually, they were so horrid that to know, and see, just what was done is so inflammatory it will lead to people getting themselves killed to attack US Soldiers.

    That’s a pretty damning reason for refusing to release those images. Me, I’m probably pretty jaded. I have a hard time imagining things that bad. But, by saying the images are that bad, everyone who wants to imagine their personal worst, their own, “Room 101”, can do so, and no one can say they are wrong.

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