Iraq

Transparency 0, Terrible Burdens of Wielding Enormous Power 1

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In a move precisely as surprising as President Obama's about-face on calling the Armenian genocide a "genocide" once he held the reins of power, your Transparency President has decided to abandon previously stated plans and go full Cheney when it comes to allowing for the release of photographs showing the U.S. torturing and defiling prisoners and detainees.

Obama defended his decision, saying publication of the photographs "would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals."

"In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger," Obama told reporters. "Moreover, I fear the publication of these photos may only have a chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse."

The first excuse is pure bunkum. Did the Abu Ghraib photos, which illustrated what had already been described in various reports, add to your understanding of the gravity/extent to what we were doing in the world? Yes, I believe it did. Images add value that words cannot convey.

The "chilling effect," too, is nonsensical. If anything, images increase public pressure on the government/military to conduct investigations in the first place (as in fact happened at Abu Ghraib). Who, exactly, would be getting chilled in this case? U.S. service personnel? Isn't it just as likely that they would become motivated witnesses for the prosecution?

The real reason here is just as it was four years ago, when I wrote a column about why we'll never see the second round of Abu Ghraib photos: It's that American governing class has learned its lesson:

[T]here is little doubt that the administration, its supporters, and Congress will use whatever legal means are available to prevent Abu Ghraib—the public relations problem, not the prisoner abuse—from happening again. The Defense Department has commissioned numerous studies about America's problem with "public diplomacy" since the September 11 massacre; all those compiled since last May hold up the iconic torture images as the perfect example of what not to let happen again.

In one sense Obama is right–the publication of these photos would complicate things for the United States in the world. But transparency isn't about temporal convenience to politicians and bureaucrats in power, it's about the bedrock conviction that maximally distributed knowledge will uncover malfeasance in such a way to prevent it and lesser crimes from happening again. There is nothing in Obama's justifications that couldn't have been used by Dick Cheney in preventing the initial images of Abu Ghraib from resurfacing in the first place. Americans, and non-Americans, deserve to know just what tactics are being used by the world's supercop as it polices the globe. If such knowledge makes Obama's upcoming visit to the Middle East interpersonally uncomfortable–a concept that was given enormous weight and sympathy by CNN as it covered this story yesterday–then that price itself is a useful metric for just how dire U.S. torture really is.

And by lacking confidence to air this publicly, the U.S. missed an opportunity to send a powerful message to the world: Not only do we no longer torture (in both word and deed), we take that notion seriously enough to withstand a public relations hit as we fully exhume the ghosts of a dishonorable seven-year policy. In a region of autocratic, torturous governments, I daresay such a message could have surprising resonance among the people alleged to hate us most.

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  1. So, is there no validity to the argument that:

    In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.

    All this time, we have been told that our treatment of prisoners is the best recruiting tool the terrorists have. I don’t know how you can make that claim, simultaneously make the claim that these photographs should be released because they expand the visibility and knowledge of our treatment of prisoners, and conclude that they won’t be a valuable recruiting tool for our enemies.

  2. And by lacking confidence to air this publicly, the U.S. missed an opportunity to send a powerful message to the world: Not only do we no longer torture (in both word and deed), we take that notion seriously enough to withstand a public relations hit as we fully exhume the ghosts of a dishonorable seven-year policy.

    But would that be true? Doesn’t the government have a point? Does anyone around the world really care about our torture at Supermax prisons, or Spanish torture of Basque terrorist suspects, or French torture and indefinite detention of terrorist suspects, etc? Do they make national or global news, do they have “surprising resonance?” Or do people only care about the incidents whose photos are released and made public?

    Sadly, I think that the governing class is right. Out of sight means out of mind when it comes to mistreatment or torture.

  3. Sorry, I can’t get worked up about the treatment of KSM. We were too good to him. Too bad we can’t simulate the feeling you get falling from the 120th floor of the Trade Tower. I bet some rational Los Angeles citizens appreciate the fact we avoided phase 2.

  4. Torture is an issue on the world stage to the extent that it is useful as a stick to beat your enemies with. Releasing the photos gives our enemies a bigger stick.

    At least acknowledge that there is a downside to this that should be considered, Matt.

  5. I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise.

  6. I actually agree with the final decision. I think Obama sucks because he reverses himself all the time, and I don’t trust him in the least.

    That said, WTF are they taking pictures for anyway? Is it necessary?

  7. Unlike the commies of yesteryear, you lbertarian true believers will never have to test your theories outside the confines of your bony skulls. But, man, can you lay on the critiques of the real world.

  8. If anything, images increase public pressure on the government/military to conduct investigations in the first place (as in fact happened at Abu Ghraib).

    This is factually incorrect.

    The military uncovered the abuses at Abu Gharib on its own and launched an investigation and rapidly brought both the primary offenders and those in the chain of command before court martial months before the images became public. Indeed, the images were released by the defendants themselves in a desperate attempt to create a Nuremberg defense. The abuses were discovered and reported in December. The investigation was largely completed in January when the Army issued its first public report on the abuses and stated that they were bringing nearly 50 people to face court martial. The media ignored that report. The first round of court maritalz were already over by the time the defendants leaked the images came out in late March. I don’t even think that the pictures caused the filing of any additional charges at all against anybody even following all the political pressure. Likewise, the reform of the detainment system began in January and was already largely complete by the time time the images became public.

    So, the narrative that the dedicated people wanting to do the right thing smuggled the images out and revealed them to the world thus forcing a cruel and uncaring military to take action is just bigoted hollywood fantasy. The images did nothing at all assist in uncovering, investigating or prosecuting the crimes.

    Images aren’t the truth especially when they’re explicitly staged images created by perverts for their own amusement. Once you chuck the plucky reporter myth out the window it’s difficult to see how the publication of the images had any positive effect whatsoever.

  9. At least acknowledge that there is a downside to this that should be considered, Matt.

    Here you go!

    In one sense Obama is right-the publication of these photos would complicate things for the United States in the world.

    My basic point (and the basic point in transparency) is that there are long term benefits that outweigh the short-term hit.

  10. And can we please stop using the word metric? Measure or indicator works as well and doesn’t sound so fucking Washington.

  11. RC, he did acknowledge that very thing:

    In one sense Obama is right-the publication of these photos would complicate things for the United States in the world.

    The point is that, negative PR or no, releasing these photos and owning up to the malfeasance of the War on Terror is the right thing to do.

  12. Has Sully given up on Obama yet?

    RCD, torture as a recruiting tool for “the terrorists” is a reason not to do it, not a reason to lie to us cattle about them doing it.

  13. Images aren’t the truth especially when they’re explicitly staged images created by perverts for their own amusement. Once you chuck the plucky reporter myth out the window it’s difficult to see how the publication of the images had any positive effect whatsoever.

    Perhaps by exposing the perverts who created the images and the government that empowered them to do so.

  14. Ah, what is a morning at reason without Morris and his commie/libertarian straw men?

    Matt,
    I think you are being naive here. The photos show behavior that should be carefully examined, perhaps punished, but violence in self-defense is justified. Especially violence so severe that it discourages the initiation of force in the future. How we determine who is worthy of harsh punishment is the issue, not the punishment itself. Don’t give the mullahs another propaganda tool.

  15. “Moreover, I fear the publication of these photos may only have a chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse.”

    I

    fucking

    hate

    that

    guy

    .

  16. This article proves you’re hypocrites because it isn’t about prison rape. Until we wipe out prison rape we can’t complain about torture…

  17. And can we please stop using the word metric? Measure or indicator works as well and doesn’t sound so fucking Washington.

    I’m a mathematician, so I agree with you. A metric is binary operator that measures distance between two things. A measure is unary and measures the size of one thing.

  18. Shorter Obama:

    “Gooble gobble, gooble gobble.

    “One of us, one of us!”

  19. Has Sully given up on Obama yet?

    He’s getting close. One wonders what the next cause he hysterically joins will be.

  20. My basic point (and the basic point in transparency) is that there are long term benefits that outweigh the short-term hit.

    I find it a little interesting that “terrorist recruiting tool” has gone from a major problem to a short-term hit. Wouldn’t the “Images add value that words cannot convey” to the terrorist recruiting campaign?

    If those offsetting long-term benefits are the good opinion of governments who themselves have no apparent objection to torture except when politically expedient to do so, then I think the benefits are minimal.

    I think there’s a disconnect as well on the argument that releasing torture photos will mollify the hostile populations of the Mideast, Pakistan, etc. If they are offended by torture in principal, which I seriously doubt, won’t the photos hurt our standing there by, again “adding value that words cannot?” I guess I’m a little puzzled by the assertion that releasing photos of past US torture will somehow reinforce in the court of public opinion our current stance that we don’t torture.

  21. All this time, we have been told that our treatment of prisoners is the best recruiting tool the terrorists have. I don’t know how you can make that claim, simultaneously make the claim that these photographs should be released because they expand the visibility and knowledge of our treatment of prisoners, and conclude that they won’t be a valuable recruiting tool for our enemies.

    Transparency, as in full disclosure, is a Good Thing To Do only if you’re planning to stop torturing people. If the plan was to raze detention centers, publicly hang (all!) the guilty from lampposts and resolve that this will never, never happen again, then full disclosure is the thing to do. It would (eventually) remove a weapon from “the terrorists'” arsenal and allow the return of the ‘Americans are the good guys’ meme.

    If, on the other hand, you’re planning to do what the administration is planning to do, then maybe not so much…

  22. Ah, once again, supposedly small-govt-favoring supporters of the war, asserting that the govt can hide information (i.e. lie) to get what it wants, and thus ignoring the fact that a govt allowed to lie at will can’t be limited.

  23. If such knowledge makes Obama’s upcoming visit to the Middle East interpersonally uncomfortable-a concept that was given enormous weight and sympathy by CNN as it covered this story yesterday…

    Well, at least somebody isn’t so distracted by all this trivia about torture and terrorism and civil liberties that they haven’t forgotten to consider my sensitive feelings!

  24. “war, asserting” should be “war are asserting” above

  25. Of course, Supermax prisons are a lot different than prison rape. Supermax treatment involves 23 hours per day of solitary confinement with no stimuli and no talking or other human contact allowed during the 1 hour when the prisoner is let outside his cell. There are NIH studies suggesting that the treatment induces psychosis in prisoners even after a relatively short time of treatment. This is not of course at all an incidental side-effect of the prisons, a result of prison conditions from lack of money, or behavior of other prisoners that guards fail to stop or are unable to stop like prison rape.

    This is the intentional treatment and punishment meted out to the prisoners. This would properly be compared to the actions of US interrogators following official memos for “enhanced techniques.” Prison rape, by contrast, would be compared to the actions of a few rogue servicemembers who were not following orders at all. (Of course, we don’t publicize prison rape photos either.)

    Supermax is torture. We still torture, though many other nations join us in that. The fact that we torture convicted criminals already undoubtedly made it easier to mistreat captured terrorists.

    The existence of Supermax doesn’t mean that we can’t prevent mistreatment at Gitmo, but it certainly means that transferring the prisoners to Ft. Leavenworth, as Steve Chapman suggested, would not be torturing them any less than currently. That’s the real hypocrisy; reducing our forms of torture but still torturing as many people is hardly an improvement.

  26. If we shut down Gitmo and then did something with the detainees that wasn’t torture, then, yes, that would obviously be a good thing that people could support even if we didn’t reform Supermax prisons. But closing it only to send the detainees to equivalent torture is pointless.

  27. The World’s Best Illusion: The Secret of the Curve Ball

    http://www.aip.org/isns/reports/2009/051309visualillusion.html

  28. To understand the import behind — and ramifications of — Obama’s about-face, read this revealing interview by Mickey Z. with writer-activist David Boyajian on Foreign Policy Journal:

    http://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2009/05/13/obama-and-denial-of-the-armenian-genocide/

  29. And can we please stop using the word metric? Measure or indicator works as well and doesn’t sound so fucking Washington.

    My usage is derived 100% from non-Beltway baseball stat-geek lingo; that said I shall henceforth try to refrain.

  30. Let’s just stop defining crime and punishing criminals altogether. Clearly, no form of punishment unpleasant enough to bear the name will ever pass muster with this crowd. It’s all relative anyway, right?

  31. He’s getting close. One wonders what the next cause he hysterically joins will be.

    Nope, this is just proof of how intellectually above and beyond us all the Obamassiah is:

    http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/05/thinking-again-about-those-photos.html#more

    “But this is a blog, written in real time, so allow me some secondary thoughts after a night to sleep on it. In the cold light of morning, it doesn’t seem quite so offensive. In fact, the rope-a-dope this time might be on us.”

  32. “My basic point (and the basic point in transparency) is that there are long term benefits that outweigh the short-term hit.

    Doesn’t matter.

    This plot-line is so old that it’s been used by writers since at least the Patty Duke Show in the mid-60’s. Maybe even My Three Sons. Someone gets the bright idea that one should always tell the truth no matter what? Of course this creates problems and embarrassing situations for everyone and we as an audience come to the understanding that honesty isn’t always the best policy.

  33. This plot-line is so old that it’s been used by writers since at least the Patty Duke Show

    Yea, I fondly remember the episode where Patty Duke waterboarded the answers to that English test out of the school secretary. Damn fine TV.

  34. We need another Daniel Ellsberg.

    Most of the terrorist-recruiting damage was done when the U.S. government tortured prisoners (or, rather, when the world found out about it). Those who currently hold the reins could mitigate that damage by showing the world that they’re unwilling to cover the evidence of past crimes, and willing to prosecute the perpetrators. I guess that’s not true.

  35. JFC, jsh. Andrew Sullivan really is a contemptible and pusillanimous little toady, isn’t he?

  36. “Yea, I fondly remember the episode where Patty Duke waterboarded the answers to that English test out of the school secretary. Damn fine TV.”

    Oh fuck you and your tiny little mind.

  37. your Transparency President has decided to abandon previously stated plans and go full Cheney when it comes to allowing for the release of photographs showing the U.S. torturing and defiling prisoners and detainees

    I think a full Cheney would be putting up poster sized images of the pictures above your bed and batin’ to them.

  38. Andrew Sullivan really is a contemptible and pusillanimous little toady, isn’t he?

    Shorter Sully post: “Whoever just took power is Our Savior and should be trusted totally until the evidence is too overwhelming and it is too late to stop him. Did I mention I’m supposedly a conservative?”

  39. Ah, once again, supposedly small-govt-favoring supporters of the war, asserting that the govt can hide information (i.e. lie) to get what it wants, and thus ignoring the fact that a govt allowed to lie at will can’t be limited.

    Not releasing photos is not the same thing as lying.

    Those who currently hold the reins could mitigate that damage by showing the world that they’re unwilling to cover the evidence of past crimes, and willing to prosecute the perpetrators.

    I’m still not seeing why publicizing the hell out of our past abuses somehow takes the steam out of the terrorist recruiting campaign based on those abuses.

  40. Not releasing photos is not the same thing as lying.

    A lie by omission is still a lie. You cannot control nor limit a government that gets to withhold information from you like this.

  41. You cannot control nor limit a government that gets to withhold information from you like this.

    True or false, releasing the photos will impact how Americans respond to their own govt and how it is handling this whole issue.

  42. This is a difficult issue. While I’m persuaded to some extent that releasing the photos could have repercussions on our foreign relations, it’s not like the bad guys we’re concerned with are behaving nicely right now. They mistreat and execute hostages already.

    I think we should repudiate torture and “torture.” Releasing the photos under those circumstances makes sense. If we’re going to keep doing it, then we shouldn’t bother.

  43. In a region of autocratic, torturous governments, I daresay such a message could have surprising resonance among the people alleged to hate us most.

    Oh, it’ll have resonance, just not the sort you hope for. You want to show more pictures of abused Muslims to the Muslim world and think the message they’ll get from it is “the USA is good because they have stopped doing this”? It’s just bad marketing. It’s like suggesting that Ford run ads featuring flaming Pintos: “Our cars are much better these days!” Or maybe the LAPD can do community outreach using TV ads with the Rodney King video: “This is all in the past. We’re cool now!”

    And no, I don’t think it’s “the right thing to do.” There is a war going on, and it’s prudent to avoid embarrassing your side while there’s still fighting going on.

  44. There is a war going on, and it’s prudent to avoid embarrassing your side while there’s still fighting going on.

    What would “embarrassing your side” do? Reduce support for the war domestically? Isn’t that an admission the govt is withholding info to limit accountability to us cattle, if they get to tell us what they want us to know, to get the response they want?

  45. A lie by omission is still a lie.

    An omission has to be misleading to be a lie. How is not publishing photos misleading? Who is misled, and how?

    If I’ve been banging your wife and making videos of it, am I lying to you if I tell you what I’ve been doing but don’t give you copies?

  46. asserting that the govt can hide information (i.e. lie)

    So all levels of classification are lying now?

    Should we broadcast troop movements, CIA operations and the like in the interest of transparency?

  47. If I’ve been banging your wife and making videos of it, am I lying to you if I tell you what I’ve been doing but don’t give you copies?

    If you say it only happened once, and you have videos of it happening multiple times, then it is a lie. If you characterize it as being merely “inappropriately affectionate”, but the videos show it went beyond that, withholding them is a lie.

  48. RC Dean,

    I think our treatment of prisoners is already well-known in the Arab world, pictures or not. That is the damage torture opponents are concerned with, and there’s no undoing that at this point.

    You yourself purport to know that Middle Eastern countries routinely torture prisoners, but I doubt you’ve seen pictures released by those governments.

  49. You yourself purport to know that Middle Eastern countries routinely torture prisoners, but I doubt you’ve seen pictures released by those governments.

    RCD thinks those pics are none of his business and it is the absolute right of those govts not to release any information regarding torture they choose not to, because RCD is a paragon of consistency.

  50. What inflames anti-American passions is not pictures of torture, but the act of torture itself. Everyone knows that it’s going on, and releasing the pictures or not isn’t going to change that.

    How we treat those pictures also sends a message about how the US plans to act going forward. By hiding the pictures (in conjunction with refusing to prosecute the people who committed the acts) the message being sent is “Business as usual”. We aren’t serious about investigating these types of things and our government will continue to act in secrecy and to hide from it’s citizens and the world any unsavory and illegal acts that it commits. That’s not the way a free society and a democratic republic is supposed to work.

    If you release the photos though, the message is one of accountability and transparency. Once those photos are released (just like when the first round of Gitmo photos were released) people and the media will pay attention to what’s been going on. It also helps kill the lie that these “enhanced interrogations” were equivalent tot “frat boy” hazing.

    Furthermore, our government shouldn’t be allowed to hide information that is embarrassing. Even the bad stuff needs to be put out there — otherwise you get into situations where the government becomes unaccountable for its actions.

    At the end of the day though, it isn’t Obama’s choice really. The court has ruled that they have to be released. He can try and appeal to the Supreme’s or find some other legal rationale to challenge the Appellate court’s decision, but I think the pictures are going to be released regardless of what Obama wants.

  51. There is a war going on

    Right, we should wait until terrorism surrenders before we, then release the pictures.

  52. “If I’ve been banging your wife and making videos of it, am I lying to you if I tell you what I’ve been doing but don’t give you copies?’

    Can you post those to YouTube or some such place?

  53. “Furthermore, our government shouldn’t be allowed to hide information that is embarrassing. Even the bad stuff needs to be put out there — otherwise you get into situations where the government becomes unaccountable for its actions.”

    Again, you need to watch my show. IIRC it was entitled “Idealism precedes experience”.

  54. it’s not like the bad guys we’re concerned with are behaving nicely right now.

    Two wrongs make a right.

    So all levels of classification are lying now?

    Yes!

    Should we broadcast troop movements, CIA operations and the like in the interest of transparency?

    Maybe we should be doing less of both, then there would be less to worry about.

  55. On that note, ProLib (& Joel before him) nail it:

    I think we should repudiate torture and “torture.” Releasing the photos under those circumstances makes sense. If we’re going to keep doing it, then we shouldn’t bother.

    The reason Obama isn’t releasing these photos, and shies away from prosecuting the people responsible (even a truth commission is unlikely to happen) is that he wants to leave the door open to using torture in the future. Once the people are more focused on the economy or relocated to their forced labor community service camps, he can quietly reinstate the policy and be back to business as usual.

    Real pragmatist, that one.

  56. I think there’s a disconnect as well on the argument that releasing torture photos will mollify the hostile populations of the Mideast, Pakistan, etc.

    If we are to regain the trust of the world and if the concept of the honor of the United States is to have any meaning, absolute honesty and absolute transparency is required.

    Also, not releasing the photos violates my rights in a very real way. If I wished to run for public office, one of the national issues of the day is the debate surrounding torture. In that debate, there are cocksuckers who to this day will deny that torture was a tool in the war on terror. If the government is in possession of evidence of torture conducted using my tax dollars, in whole or in part, I consider myself absolutely morally entitled to employ those photos in that ongoing political debate.

    The widespread use of “national security” and “state secrets” arguments to suppress evidence of government wrongdoing is coming very, very close to delegitimizing our elections. What if some US veteran who was deployed to Bagram and appears in one of the photos runs for office? Wouldn’t his opponents be entitled to use these photos against him? Wouldn’t the public be entitled to know about these photos before casting their vote? What if Dick Cheney runs for some future office? Or someone from the chain of command involved here?

  57. If you say it only happened once, and you have videos of it happening multiple times, then it is a lie.

    Saying it happened once would be a lie, yes. If, however, my disclosures to you of my amorous activities with your wife are otherwise complete and accurate, I still don’t see how withholding the videos is, in and of itself, a lie.

    RCD thinks those pics are none of his business and it is the absolute right of those govts not to release any information regarding torture they choose not to, because RCD is a paragon of consistency.

    No, RCD thinks that releasing the pictures will be needlessly inflammatory without materially advancing any beneficial agenda.

    What inflames anti-American passions is not pictures of torture, but the act of torture itself. Everyone knows that it’s going on, and releasing the pictures or not isn’t going to change that.

    Then you disagree with Matt that “Images add value that words cannot convey.”

    If you release the photos though, the message is one of accountability and transparency.

    That’s one of the messages, I suppose, although I think that message has a lot more to do with whether we pursue criminal cases against those involved. Regardless, the question is, does that message offset the damage that the pictures will do as, among other things, fodder for terrorist recruiting?

  58. Should we broadcast troop movements, CIA operations and the like in the interest of transparency?

    This is nothing like broadcasting the details of the Normandy invasion and alerting the enemy before it takes place.

    This is more like trying to deny that the Phillipines fell in 1942, and then suppressing any photographic evidence that contradicts that, in the name of “public morale”.

  59. Saying it happened once would be a lie, yes. If, however, my disclosures to you of my amorous activities with your wife are otherwise complete and accurate, I still don’t see how withholding the videos is, in and of itself, a lie.

    If I was paying your salary, had bought the video equipment, and had provided it to you to be used in an investigation I was paying for, and you want to keep the video away from me when it’s done because I might get mad, it might not be a lie, but I am entitled to that video and entitled to force you to give it to me if need be.

  60. Regardless, the question is, does that message offset the damage that the pictures will do as, among other things, fodder for terrorist recruiting?

    You and your government don’t get to cover up your bad acts on the grounds that if word what you did gets out, Bad Things will happen. You can’t claim it will only inflame those against us more, but have no impact on internal, domestic accountability. The same visual reinforcement that would do one would do the other.

    The pictures enable the rest of us not to have to rely on the govt’s wording when it describes for us what happened. We are not morally obligated to take its and your word that it has given us a complete account.

  61. Good job Mr. President. I think. Although you could have thought of that before saying you’d release the photos and most of the “endangering US interests” has already occurred with the release and all the hubub about the terrorist memos. One must wonder if the photos are actually so mild that they wouldn’t implicate the evil evil evil evil Bush so it was considered politically better to leave it to everyone’s imagination. Regardless, a President has the right and duty to not release classified information that would harm the US.

  62. So let me get this straight. If the police are fighting the mafia or even just a gang, the best thing to do would be to release pictures of police torturing mafia or gang members because that would be “transparency” and lead to reconciliation?!?! It is the same with terrorists. They will always assume that there is worse stuff than the released stuff and they will always assume or be able to convince recruits that bad behavior continues.

  63. Regardless, the question is, does that message offset the damage that the pictures will do as, among other things, fodder for terrorist recruiting?

    Since when do we care what the Iraqis think? I mean, if we really wanted to stop pissing them them off we could end our military occupation of their country.

  64. The argument “the pics add nothing because everything has been admitted” assumes that everything has been admitted. We won’t know that until we see the pics, now will we? Otherwise, the argument is “I’ve told you everything and you know that because I say so”.

  65. Welch should be more explicit in what he is arguing.

    He should come out and say it is ok to give Al Queda propaganda because it serves a higher-order good.

    He should also be cognizant that is the same argument in the torture debate: it is ok to torture in rare circumstances to serve a higher-order good of saving more lives.

  66. Obama is being presidential. He has to govern.

    ZOMG!11! It’s as funny the 900th time as it was the first time…

  67. So let me get this straight. If the police are fighting the mafia or even just a gang, the best thing to do would be to release pictures of police torturing mafia or gang members because that would be “transparency” and lead to reconciliation?!?!

    Yes.

    We have no reason to have any confidence in the ability of a corrupt and dishonest police force to defeat any gang. And a police force that would torture and then lie about it is corrupt and dishonest.

    And if one of the advantages we’re counting on having is the perception of honesty and justice, we have to be willing to tell the truth even if it’s not to our immediate advantage, and we have to be willing to expose wrongdoing when committed by our side.

    And if the police force is trying to drive a wedge between the gang and a citizenry with elements that supports the gang, we have to be even more rigorous in our honesty. Because the gang is out there, every day, whispering into citizens’ ears, “The police say we are criminals, but they are no different. It’s all a sham and a lie,” and the single most critical thing we must do is never do anything to prove them right.

  68. He should come out and say it is ok to give Al Queda propaganda because it serves a higher-order good.

    He should also be cognizant that is the same argument in the torture debate: it is ok to torture in rare circumstances to serve a higher-order good of saving more lives.

    Are you retarded?

    Are you actually arguing that “I must do one good, in order to serve another good” is the same argument as “I must do evil, in order to serve a higher good”? You’re really that dense?

  69. So, now the world knows we (and ‘we’ means ‘The Obama Administration’) have some ugly photos that we (and by ‘we’, I mean The Obama Administration) refuse to show them because it’ll inflame the passions of certain groups with strong opinions about the U.S.

    So hiding photos that everyone (and by ‘everyone’, I mean The Obama Administration) admits exist won’t inflame the passions of certain groups with strong opinions about the U.S.?

  70. As my friend Tommy Hobbes said: “Life is nasty brutish and short.” Get effing used to it.

  71. New joe has a point. Terrorist recruits are certainly told of heinous treatment by the enemy. The photos are probably mild by their expectations, but they will never believe that worse isn’t happening.

  72. Fluffy,

    You think giving Al Queda propaganda is a ‘good’?

    You are one sick fuck.

  73. James Ard | May 14, 2009, 10:07am | #

    Sorry, I can’t get worked up about the treatment of KSM. We were too good to him. Too bad we can’t simulate the feeling you get falling from the 120th floor of the Trade Tower. I bet some rational Los Angeles citizens appreciate the fact we avoided phase 2.

    Yup, It was only KSM and the other “worst of the worst” that got tortured. I’m sure the government was extremely careful that no innocent Afghan goatherds were sold into captivity by their tribal enemies.

    Binyan Mohamed was probably slicing his own cock with a scalpel, that sick weirdo.

    James Ard | May 14, 2009, 2:03pm | #

    New joe has a point. Terrorist recruits are certainly told of heinous treatment by the enemy. The photos are probably mild by their expectations, but they will never believe that worse isn’t happening.

    Multiple sources from the military, CIA, Congress, and others have stated that these photos depict rape and murder, including sodomy of children. I don’t care if it flares up anger among people who already despise us, I want a full accounting of what has been done in my name, with my tax dollars.

  74. And can we please stop using the word metric? Measure or indicator works as well and doesn’t sound so fucking Washington.

    My usage is derived 100% from non-Beltway baseball stat-geek lingo; that said I shall henceforth try to refrain.

    Don’t give in to the haters, it’s a perfectly cromulent use!

  75. Don’t give in to the haters, it’s a perfectly cromulent use!

    May I extend my sincerest contrafibularities.

  76. “Multiple sources from the military, CIA, Congress, and others have stated that these photos depict rape and murder, including sodomy of children.” [citation needed]

  77. Fluffy,

    You think giving Al Queda propaganda is a ‘good’?

    You are one sick fuck.

    Wrong.

    Releasing the photographs counts as “telling the truth”.

    Did the events depicted in the photos actually happen? They aren’t fake, or made in a Hollywood effects studio?

    Then releasing them is the basic act of being honest and truthful.

    The question of whether or not Al Qaeda may use them for propaganda is actually secondary. Our action in releasing the photographs is nothing more and nothing less than necessary candor. If they do use them for propaganda, too fucking bad for us – we deserve it. The man whose actions are just doesn’t have to worry about whether his enemy will use the truth as propaganda.

    Your sentence breaks down as:

    “He should come out and say it is ok to tell the truth because it serves a higher-order good.”

    If we don’t want “telling the truth” to be the same as “giving Al Qaeda propaganda”, we should have fucking thought of that before we engaged in the policies we did.

  78. “Multiple sources from the military, CIA, Congress, and others have stated that these photos depict rape and murder, including sodomy of children.” [citation needed]

    And here is why the photos need to be released – because people out there still regard this statement as disputable.

    http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1001218842

  79. “And here is why the photos need to be released – because people out there still regard this statement as disputable.

    http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1001218842

    Thanks, but if you ask me, the link you provided is all that people need to see. There is no putative benefit in actually viewing the material.

    If I read in the paper about a murder in my neighborhood, I don’t need to see footage of the actual murder taking place in order to have a clear understand what happened.

    Unless of course I’m really into snuff films.

  80. I think the NY Times should be able to publish these pictures as soon as they show the Mohummad cartoons. Or footage of Daniel Pearle’s beheading.

  81. Fluffy,

    You really are dense. There is all sorts of information we don’t release to our enemies and all of it is ‘the truth’.

    Matt Welch thinks it is ok to commit a lower-order evil (giving propaganda to the enemy) to achieve a higher-order good. That’s fine, and he pretty much concedes the point at 10:19am:

    My basic point (and the basic point in transparency) is that there are long term benefits that outweigh the short-term hit.

    I want him and others to realize this is similar to certain arguments in the torture debate.

  82. Fluffy,

    Are you also now claiming that all the incidents that happened at Abu Ghraib were policy being implemented?

    That’s news to me.

  83. “In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger,”

    Ya because 8 years of war hasn’t put out “troops” in enough danger.

  84. You really are dense. There is all sorts of information we don’t release to our enemies and all of it is ‘the truth’.

    Matt Welch thinks it is ok to commit a lower-order evil (giving propaganda to the enemy) to achieve a higher-order good.

    You’re just an immoral asswipe, and that’s why you think that I’m being dense.

    The fact that you may have some practical reason for wanting to maintain secrecy does not make stating the truth a “lower order evil”. Sorry.

    If the practical reason involved the operational security of some military operation, you might have a point. But that is not the case here. What we have here is the fact that military and intelligence personnel mistreated prisoners, and now we want to keep the graphic reality of what they did from being seen.

    If our military and intelligence personnel mistreated prisoners, it is actually just for anti-American sentiment to be enflamed as a result. You’re basically arguing that it would be evil for us to experience the just outcome and just penalty for what was done by our military and intelligence personnel.

    So now we have established that you don’t believe in either honesty or justice.

  85. Are you also now claiming that all the incidents that happened at Abu Ghraib were policy being implemented?

    That’s news to me.

    Yes. And that’s another reason why the photos need to be released.

    Because asswipes like you want to argue that what took place at Abu Ghraib was the isolated work of a few bad apples.

    Releasing the photos would sweep that bullshit argument away in a torrent of outrage.

    The fact that it would be news to you is why it is important.

    The general who was in charge of the Abu Ghraib investigation now states that it was a whitewash, and that he was prevented from investigating the full chain of command, and the full policy context in which the events there took place.

    Maybe if the photos are released we can correct that.

  86. If the US is to be an “honest” broker, we must walk the walk. Unassailabilty should be our standard on human rights which means acknowledging mistakes in all their gory detail and holding all involved accountable.

    We act as though there is nothing to see here, let’s move on when what I recall of the few statements out of Congress critters at the time was we had not seen the worst of it.

    Not to go Godwin here but the reason the “Holocaust” generates visceral reaction was not primarily the numbers but the concentration camp photos. Compare this to the Stalinist purges, Cambodia, Mogadishu, Armenia, etc. etc.

    If the acts were horrible, then the horror should be broadcast. Full awareness of our capacity for inhumanity is how we calibrate our humanity.

  87. If our military and intelligence personnel mistreated prisoners, it is actually just for anti-American sentiment to be enflamed as a result. You’re basically arguing that it would be evil for us to experience the just outcome and just penalty for what was done by our military and intelligence personnel.

    So now we have established that you don’t believe in either honesty or justice.

    So it’s justice for Al Queda (the guys that torture and murder innocent people and freely admit to it as policy) to get upset and torture and kill more people because a handful of detainees (some of whom might have been innocent) were mistreated and you somehow think it was policy for Lindsey England to parade people around on a leash?

    I have two words to say to that: fuck you.

    I’m done debating you or acknowledging your existence in any context. You are nothing but a walking, talking piece of shit.

  88. Look, JB, I’m going to break it down really simply for you, since you appear to be retarded.

    There are several separate and utterly discrete actions under discussion here:

    A. Military and intelligence personnel committed atrocities against prisoners.

    B. Someone [lets call him Fluffy] wants to secure and publish evidence of the atrocities in A.

    C. Third parties, in America and in the Middle East, who view the evidence from B may become angry and hostile to War on Terror policies as a result of such publication.

    D. Al Qaeda may take advantage of C to recruit more people to commit acts of terrorism against the US.

    You are attempting to argue that action “B” is a “lower order evil”, because of C and D.

    My response to you is: C is a just outcome of A. D is an unjust outcome of A. But in both instances, the person doing B does not have to give a shit. Absolutely no moral blame from D whatsoever attaches to the action in B.

    If you have a problem with what Al Qaeda will do if these photos are released, take it up with the people who committed the atrocities in the photo.

    A person who reveals truthful evidence of an evil that actually occurred cannot be morally tangled up in the outrage that results from the evil that was exposed.

    If I’m the person in B, and you come to me and say, “Waaaaah! You’re giving Al Qaeda a propaganda victory!” I say, Blow me. The guys who committed the atrocities did that. I am simply exposing their wrongdoing, and I am absolutely morally entitled to do that. It’s not a “lower order evil”. For it to be evil in any way, shape or form, the guys who did these things would have to have some expectation that I would be complicit in their action and maintain silence on their behalf, and to that I say: Go fuck yourself. I have no such obligation.

  89. You know the one thing that is missing from this discussion about the photos. Context. How many cases of abuse in how many prisoners? What percentage of abuse cases resulted in convictions? How many cases turned out to be false? How do the number of abuse cases in this war compare to the number in prior wars?

    Without context the photos are only propaganda and can only serve to inflame. If the vast majority of real abuse cases resulted in convictions then justice was done. If the number of abuse cases compared to the total number of prisoners is small then the US can feel proud that the vast majority of US soldiers acted properly and there really was only a “few bad apples”. If the percentage of cases is small in comparison to prior wars then the US military did a good job. Context matters.

    We can’t expect perfection in our soldiers. We must punish the guilty but we must not tar the innocent with their crimes. Releasing the photos without context is an attempt to do just that.

  90. You do not expect perfection in your soldiers. Great. So, how many sodomized children you do expect? After carefully taking into account this expected imperfection, of course.

  91. If the number of abuse cases compared to the total number of prisoners is small then the US can feel proud that the vast majority of US soldiers acted properly and there really was only a “few bad apples”.

    This is the opposite of the way things work–the primary defense of those accused at Abu Gharib and Bagram was that they were ordered to do what they did. So an absence of convictions indicates that judges and juries agreed with them that this was an institutional problem throughout the whole U.S. military or U.S. executive branch–one for which no one has been held accountable, and certainly one for which no decent person can be proud.

  92. My basic point (and the basic point in transparency) is that there are long term benefits that outweigh the short-term hit.

    I want him and others to realize this is similar to certain arguments in the torture debate.

    Yes, it’s similar to anti-torture arguments that information gained by torture isn’t worth the long-term cost. The argument that we should continue to conceal this photos for short-term gain is very much like the argument that we should torture people for short-term gain.

  93. Matt — THANK YOU for this piece. Reason’s pages have lately been poisoned by Cathy Young and others who are crazy sympatico with Bush II. Do. Not. Want.

  94. @Fluffy — well said.

  95. More: translating JB’s position to Henry V, Bardolph not only escapes the noose, he should win a brevet.

    … for when lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the
    gentler gamester is the soonest winner.

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