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May 13, 2009

Comments

I have to admit some ambivalence on this front. On the one hand, I agree with pretty much everything anyone says about transparency, democracy, etc. That said, what is to be gained by releasing the photos? We know what they show already, don't we?

In litigation parlance, there is a very real chance they will prove more prejudicial than probative.

Obama's claim is not that he's trying to protect Americans from the knowledge of what was done; it's that he's trying to protect the troops from righteous outrage of the citizens of the countries we currently occupy.

If Obama / Holder are making a good faith effort to figure out whether they can prosecute the Bush / Cheney administration, I couldn't care less whether the pictures are going to be released. I've seen enough pictures and read enough accounts to have formed an opinion that people were tortured, brutalized, and murdered, and that Bush administration officials were responsible. Obama / Holder also have this information, plus much more. The public seeing more and more pictures is irrelevant to the crucial issue: Will they prosecute?

I think the answer is with Holder's determination as to whether he thinks he can win, and has nothing to do with public outrage.

Pooh, I agree. I too am ambivalent, and do take seriously the possibility that a new barrage of photographs will be detrimental to our troops. That said, I really think prosecution (preferably) or, at the very least, truth commission has to start very, very soon.

We are in total agreement on all fronts, sir.

I usually agree with most of Hilzoy's posts but this one seems a bit callous and short sighted. The statement, "it's about having an open government that does not act as though we need to be protected from the knowledge of what is done in our name" is easy to make from a warm comfortable home in the suburbs (or where ever you happen to live) but it would be quite different if you had a child currently serving a tour of duty in the Mid East.
Let's say for the sake of argument that you have a son, we'll call him Bob. Bob is currently stationed in Baghdad where he has to routinely patrol street X. Let's say the govt. has evidence that the son of a radical cleric who lives on street X was tortured by our military. Would you fight to have that evidence made public even though it would likely result in your sons injury or death? The answer might be yes if this story hadn't already broke. But at this point, everybody knows that torture occured and there is nothing to be gained by ensuring a steady stream of pictures is made available to the public.

Actual photos of abuse will cause great harm to the troops but public conspiracies to hide photos of abuse (while of course not prosecuting the abusers) will of course keep our troops safe as babes in arms.

I'm sorry to me this one is a clear FUCK YOU Obama. Do the right thing.

"And the fact that people would be appalled by it is not such a reason -- if anything, it just makes the case for disclosure stronger."

No disrespect, but is it really Hilzoy's argument that this action (releasing the photos) is made more necessary by a likely provocation to follow, even if said provocation puts our troops in danger?

Or is this post just missing the point? Or am I?

I must say I agree with Pooh (there's a sentence I never thought I'd write). I want very badly to agree with the notion of releasing these, but the longer this goes on the more it seems that it is our representatives in Congress who were supposed to be our voice of objection in all this, and they have failed us time and again.

I mean, the fact that Harry Reid is still SML just leaves my jaw on the floor time and again. Elections have consequences? When? How many? Who in Congress can still defend this stuff? They have no reason not to, do they? Not while they're still bringing home the bacon to their constituents at least.

Maybe the lesson of 2008 isn't elections have consequences but that all politics in local...

I like your articles, you have a great writing style!
Thanks for sharing

I've also gotta agree with Pooh. The pictures from Abu Ghraib became a huge recruiting tool for terrorists, but their release was necessary to substantiate the various claims that had been made about prisoner abuse. I'm all for making public, investigating and prosecuting the abuses, but I'm not sure if putting out tons of graphic pictures helps more than it hurts. I think we've made early progress in repairing our image in the muslim world and, despite the fact that the pictures are of abuse that happened in the past, this may needlessly set us back. I think the claim that it could endanger troops in Iraq and Afghanistan is a valid argument. Unlike the torture memos, outrage over this would be largely be directed at the rank and file soldiers.

Oh come on. If you want to protect the troops, get them out of other people's countries where abusive activities by occupiers are resented. Keep troops where they are hated and resented by people with guns and bombs, they'll get shot at. Pictures are just lipstick on the pig.

"President Obama yesterday chose secrecy over disclosure . . ."

I just finished watching the season finale of "Lost" and, like the characters in that show, I am beginning to wonder if we are time-traveling: going backwards.

Didn't we just live through eight years of a government that chose secrecy over disclosure?

President Obama promised transparency and is failing miserably. Forget trying to find real information on those websites that promised to tell us where every dollar of the TARP money is going. Now this.

Sapient says: "I've seen enough pictures and read enough accounts to have formed an opinion that people were tortured, brutalized, and murdered, and that Bush administration officials were responsible . . . The public seeing more and more pictures is irrelevant to the crucial issue: Will they prosecute?"

To my mind the pictures could be very relevant.

If they are tame, so be it. If they are not, I'd suspect there would be a greater push for prosecution -- and, clearly, Mr. Obama bends to public pressure.

And that is the only thing that will "clear" this country's good name: an independent prosecutor who seeks justice.

Today's hearings in Congress featured the usual partisan back-and-forth. I think a truth commission could also give way to partisanship. An independent prosecutor -- who would accumulate and weigh real evidence and who would check politics at the door -- is needed.

One must certainly respect Lance's point about our troops being in harm's way.

And while this may sound cynical, I ask: Would the release of these photos make some Middle East Jihadist hate the United States any more than he already does?

Should we stand silent and hide in the name of secrecy?

Or should we stand up for our principles -- supposedly one of the reasons our troops are in harm's way in the first place -- let transparency run its course and show us, and the world, how we ultimately believe in the justice and the rule of law?

What do we have to hide?


The argument was not meant to be: this will provoke a huge backlash, possibly endangering people, so we should release the photos. More like: the fact that people will find something objectionable means that they care about it -- as does the fact that they find it thrilling, marvelous, etc. Taking their reaction itself to be a reason not to publish the photos means saying something like: the very fact that this matters to you is why we can't tell you about it. It's like when doctors used to argue that they shouldn't tell a patient about a cancer diagnosis because then s/he'd feel dreadful: the reason to tell the patient is not to make him/her feel dreadful, but the fact that s/he'd respond not by yawning or shrugging means that if you think, generally, that doctors should tell people the facts about their condition that they would think relevant, you can't use the fact that a patient would be hugely upset by a diagnosis as an argument against disclosure.

That said: I think the photos should be released. This is not the most important thing for me -- release of further memos, investigation, and prosecution, and trying or releasing our detainees are, along (of course) with nothing like this ever happening again. If I were more confident about those things, I might mind this less.

I was also thinking: how would I react if Bush did this?

I was also thinking: how would I react if Bush did this?

I don't think the analogy holds at all, because under GWB, people would still be denying that anything bad happened at all/just a few bad apples, et cetera.

Though it's kind of mixed into some nonsense about just moving on/forgivin and forgetting, I think Joe Klein has a decent point in this graph:

A picture is worth more than a thousand words to an illiterate. The literacy rate in the non-urban areas of Afghanistan and North West Pakistan is less than 10%. Thousands of American troops will be pouring into southern Afghanistan this summer. They will have their hands full with the Taliban. As it is, they have to overcome the disastrous impact of civilian casualties caused by aerial bombing, a tactic one hopes will become far less common with the new, counterinsurgency-based military leadership in Afghanistan. They certainly don't need the intense provocation that torture photos will cause among the Pashtun tribes, which is why, I think, the President has decided to oppose their publication.

(Note, I don't really endorse the rest of Klein's post except the part about Cheney being a war criminal)

I don't agree with Pooh. Specifically, what I disagree with is "We know what they show already, don't we?"

I don't know what the photos show. I know what Sy Hersh says they show, but I don't know whether he's right. I'm afraid he might be, but I can still hope he's wrong. And, of course, there are plenty of people who aren't even willing to imagine that what Hersh says about those photos might be true. Without the photos, outright denial is still possible.

If the photos are released, we'll no longer be guessing about them and dreading what they might show. We'll actually know. If it turns out to be something we wish we hadn't known -- well, that's probably all the more reason to make sure we do.

We don't know, but we know.

Assuming there are going to be prosecutions or something substantially similar, I don't see what is to be gained by releasing photos which are almost certain to inflame more than illuminate. This stuff is horrific enough in print.

Now if the argument is that the failure to release the photos makes prosecutions less likely, I'm open to persuasion on that topic.

I second what Matthew says: we don't KNOW what the pictures show. We are free to imagine. So are "the bad guys".

The point that pictures can inflame passions more than words can is nonetheless a valid one. But those passions are not necessarily the ones the Pentagon claims to worry about. Increased physical danger to our soldiers may not be the biggest worry. Increased political danger to pro-American factions in Iraq and Pakistan might be.

So I come down where Joe Sestak did tonight: I can acquiesce to DELAY in releasing the pictures, but not to keeping them permanently under wraps.

Obama has not, so far, asserted unchecked executive power in this matter. He wants to make an argument to a COURT. I see no reason to assume the court will slavishly defer to "the commander in chief".

Also, as I understand it, the ACLU filed suit over a denied FOIA request. We take it for granted that if their suit prevails over Obama's appeals, all the pictures will be published. But should we?

--TP

I was also thinking: how would I react if Bush did this?

I thought about the same thing, and honestly wasn't too sure. I think if Bush administration did the same thing it would seem like the motivation was covering their own asses. Aside from the fact that these things happened under his watch and thus present a different set of motivations for stopping their release, this also is one of those things that I think is at the root of partisan politics. When it's "your guy" doing something you're inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that they're acting in good faith, while much of the time you think the exact opposite for the other guy. This is especially true with Bush, who already gave countless reasons not to trust his actions.

I just don't see what there is to gain from releasing these that would be worth further damaging our improving but still very fragile image in the middle east.

"... and what our government does in our name ..."

bzzzt, lie. And you thought you'd just slip that in there and nobody would notice?

You know, if he'd fucking prosecute someone for it, I wouldn't have half as much of a problem with him not showing us the gorey details.

As it is, crimes have been committed, he refuses to prosecute, and he doesn't dare pardon, and he refuses to release the evidence. This is, by definition, a coverup.

"a": What lie? Last I checked, Bush/Cheney very much claimed their torture conspiracy protected the American people. In other words, they did it for the benefit of the American people, meaning that, for those of you who hold American citizenship, that they did it in your name.

Hilzoy: I wonder if simple decency, and possibly obscenity law, should bar the release of these photographs or other recordings. Quite apart from their value as evidence, many of the photographs we have seen to date clearly constitute pornography made with unwilling participants. We do not even know, in many cases, whether these records depict the torture of persons under eighteen. A powerful argument for not releasing these records in the name of the privacy and dignity of the victims does seem clearly to exist.

Of course, the same argument also calls for these photographs to go before an independent-minded grand jury as quickly as possible.

Can't it be argued that releasing the photos would be a further violation of the Geneva Conventions? I recall the argument when Saddam photos were released:

"These photos were taken in clear violation of DoD [Department of Defense] directives and possibly Geneva Convention guidelines for the humane treatment of detained individuals," it said.

"Multi-National Forces-Iraq is disappointed at the possibility that someone responsible for the security, welfare, and detention of Saddam would take and provide these photos for public release."

Officials emphasized that because it was not a sanctioned government release, the United States is not in violation of the Geneva Conventions, although an individual might be.

Under Articles 13 and 14 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions III Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, POWs "must at all times be protected ... against insults and public curiosity," and also "are entitled in all circumstances to respect for their persons and their honor."

target="_blank">link

this whole argument that the obama adminstration is making is exactly the same thing that the bushivites were saying and doing for all those years. is this really 'Change'? i mean, it seems to me at a cursory reading of many positions taken by the obama/holder administration that they are often siding with and vociferously defending in the courts the executive branch excesses of the bush administration. state secrets, wiretapping, denial of habeaus corpus, rendition, lack of transparency, etc etc.

and since when does any supposed public relations problems/backlash "against the troops" or with the "national security" (& how many times have i heard those used to defend illegitimate or evil policies?) outweigh the right of a citizenry to know exactly what its government has been doing overseas in an illegal and immoral occupation of a foreign nation and where serious war crimes against humanity have been committed?

"A powerful argument for not releasing these records in the name of the privacy and dignity of the victims does seem clearly to exist."

"Can't it be argued that releasing the photos would be a further violation of the Geneva Conventions?"

As I see it, that's actually the only valid argument against releasing the photos, but it's not for the government to decide. One should ask those depicted in the photos, if they are going to sign a release form. If they do, those photos should be published.

Pooh:
I was also thinking: how would I react if Bush did this?

I don't think the analogy holds at all, because under GWB, people would still be denying that anything bad happened at all/just a few bad apples, et cetera.

...whereas under Obama, people admit in passing that something bad happened as they "move forward".

Oh come on. If you want to protect the troops, get them out of other people's countries where abusive activities by occupiers are resented. Keep troops where they are hated and resented by people with guns and bombs, they'll get shot at. Pictures are just lipstick on the pig.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

A picture is worth more than a thousand words to an illiterate.

Good ol' Joe Klein. Kipling would be proud.

Obama: ""The publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals,"

Ah, "small # of individuals", we're back to the few bad apples defense.

Obama:"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 danger."

Right, moreso than the actual acts themselves. Not to mentions the thousands of bombs we've dropped on Iraq and Afghanistan. But pictures?!!? Oh noes!

Obama: the pictures are "not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib.

If they're not particularly sensational then what is the problem with releasing them? Or maybe they are sensational:

But one congressional staff member, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the photos, said the pictures are more graphic than those that have been made public from Abu Ghraib. "When they are released, there will be a major outcry for an investigation by a commission or some other vehicle," the staff member said.

And I don't think we know what's in those photos, as there are apparently alot of them

Amrit Singh, the ACLU lawyer who argued the case, said the court ordered the release of 21 photos taken in Afghanistan and in Iraq outside of Abu Ghraib. She said 23 other photos taken in undetermined locations are part of the lawsuit. Civil liberties advocates say that as many as 2,000 other photos could be subject to release.

A good portion of this country seems to think that the only abuse occurred at Abu Ghraib and was the result of a few low level grunts getting too rowdy. These photos would show that the abuse was much more widespread and a result of deliberate policy, even moreso than the torture memos, and would further demonstrate the horrors of the Bush Administration and the folly of waging unnecessary war.

I guess, from Mr. O and some of the commenters here, we get to decide whether evidence of what we did to people overseas is far too inflammatory and upsetting for them to react to. So, after previous heinous acts, including genocide and assorted war crimes, I guess it was irresponsible to publish evidence, including photopgraphs, of what was done? I suppose photographs of the My Lai massacre would have been irresponsible because of the ongoing war effort in South Vietnam? Maybe pictures of the Nazi death camps after the war shouldn't have been published because we wouldn't want to offend the sensibilities of a key NATO ally? What utter tripe. From the photographs to state secrets to threatening the Brits if they revealed anything about the torture program, this Administration has gone all-in on a cover-up of what Americans have done at home and abroad (regardless of how fucked up it is) in the name of national security, as they (and only they) get to define it. What's next after invoking The Troops to justify this cock-up? The Children? I guess that was what the porn comment was about, so we should expect the Administration to roll that one out soon. Jesus.

We've killed what, a million Iraqis? For what turns out to be little more than sh*t and giggles. I suspect their provocation meter broke a long time ago. And if they want to recruit militants, I'm pretty sure of few pictures of Fallujah will work pretty well.

I thought Obama was smarter than this. Apparently not.

this morning NPR seemed to be running with the idea that Obama is refusing to release them as a show of solidarity with the military, but that most people assume the pictures would come out anyway, sometime in the future, as a result of a lawsuit. so, Obama gets to say he did right by the troops, given the limitations of the power of his office, but there are powers greater than that out there.

maybe.

i'm starting to think there are a few too many of these (presumed) bank shots.

Presumed bank shots that somehow never wind up going in the pocket.

But Obama's playing billiards when the rest of us are only playing pool.

"As it is, crimes have been committed, he refuses to prosecute, and he doesn't dare pardon, and he refuses to release the evidence. This is, by definition, a coverup."

Before going to bed last night, I was wondering the same thing.

I mean, if President Obama refuses to release evidence -- if he withholds evidence -- I wonder if a good lawyer could make a case that he is complicit in a continuation of potential war crimes committed during the Bush Admin.

To take it a step further, one could argue that Mr. Obama is now protecting fellowing Democrats like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

This is the slippery slope we continue to go down . . .

If the U.S. government selectively releases this torture stuff, it is only fair to wonder who is hiding what and why.

I'm gonna have to call BS on the whole "releasing the pictures endangers the troops!" thing.

First, what endangered the troops was torturing people. The fact that we've tortured people is public knowledge across the whole world now. And without the photos or other evidence of what actually happened, tales of the horrors we've committed can be made up and spread around freely.

And if we've done worse things than the stories that are made up by people who hate us, then we're really, truly, screwed. And everyone in the last administration who was involved belongs in a very small cell for a very long time.

In short, if anybody crying "the troops will be in danger!" meant it, they should have said it before Bush and Cheney started torturing people, or before we invaded Iraq. Because those are what put troops in danger, not releasing or not releasing some photographs of crimes committed by the last President's order.

John Spragge and jrudkis are exactly right - it's too often forgotten that this is not just about Americans and America's soul. Those are real people in those pictures, and they were tortured, and they are now trying to rebuild their lives in shattered societies. How is it ok to publish their humiliated images for the world to look at in voyeurism, and for their friends and families to see?

The acts that were committed were humiliating and dehumanising to the victims. But the act of publishing the photos is itself dehumanising - it says to the world, these people are nothing but fuel for our investigations about the damage done to our conscience. If you're in Afghanistan or Pakistan right now, you can see yourself in those photos, and conclude, America doesn't think we're people. That will cost lives - and not just American lives.

Obama said yesterday that publishing the photos could have a 'chilling effect' on future investigations - he's right, if the effect of the photos is to cause an upsurge in violence against American troops. If the apologists can make a link between the photos' release and soldiers dying, then it will be extremely difficult for the administration to argue in favor of releasing information about the torture program in future.

The photos are not essential to bringing a case against the people who put these things in motion - what is essential is the continued flow of information. Since the documentary evidence is less inflammatory than the photos, since the documentary evidence is what we really need to see, and since releasing the photos may prejudice its future release, then holding back on the photos - for now - may not be the worst idea.

The photos should be released - but as evidence in a real investigation, not simply for Americans to wring their hands over. America's soul is the proximate victim in the torture program - the real victims are the people in those photos, and they deserve better than to be displayed for the world to see, and to have their images start a cycle of new violence across the places where they live.

"I mean, if President Obama refuses to release evidence -- if he withholds evidence -- I wonder if a good lawyer could make a case that he is complicit in a continuation of potential war crimes committed during the Bush Admin."

"Withholding evidence" means withholding it from an official investigation or prosecution. It does not mean not releasing it to the public. This is a rather obvious point, unless you're under the impression that evidence in trials or police investigations is generally given out in a press conference.

I think that the NPR folks have it.Obama, with his new stance, gets to placate the military, and assure them that he is no doctrinaire liberal who doesn't care about the lives of the troops. The photos will come out, but it will be eventually and by the court order .
As for those who think that what Obama should do is withdraw troops from Muslim countries, well one of those countries is Afghanistan, and Obama pretty much campaigned on seeking victory in Afghanistan. Nobody sensible believes that it would be a good idea to withdraw from Afghanistan now. Those troops will e there for a long, long time.

"The argument was not meant to be: this will provoke a huge backlash, possibly endangering people, so we should release the photos. More like: the fact that people will find something objectionable means that they care about it..."

This isn't really what I was getting at; my pologies for poorly wording the summary.

By "likely provocation to follow", I meant "people will find something objectionable" to the point of violent rage at the US and its military.

So if the fact that the people of Afghanistan will find photos "objectionable" (to the point they want to hurt us) makes releasing said photos more necessary -- even as said emotional response puts soldiers in the fields lives in danger?

And, to be clear: the point of this comment is to question whether a given point in the post strengthens the argument or weakens it; the argument as a whole I'm holding back from.

But I will say,"Well, don't put them in countries that have people who resent our being there, if you want to keep troops safe" is an incredibly lame argument.

If someone believes we need troops in a foreign nation to protect our interests, and if they also care about open government, that they shouldn't care enough about troop safety to compromise even the image of openness.

In the time it took me to type my last point, Nate made a very good one. With regards to torture proponents*, I agree with him entirely.

* Weird how a term like this becomes noral.

If your primary concern is troops in the field, I'd suggest your first efforts should be in the area of

1. Not killing 95 Muslim children by bombing.

2. Not lying about it at first.

About an order of magnitude more inflammation potential with that than some photos.

Still boggling at the idea that Americans aren't entitled to complete information (all of it, including pictures) about what their own government is doing because that knowledge represents hand wringing of some sort. No, it's accountability, transparency, and subjecting our government to pointed questions, debate, and criticism based on all the facts. And pictures are quite telling and bring home the reality of those facts more effectively than a dry recitation of the facts in a heavily redacted document. Also, I sincerely doubt that our government cares about the feelings of those who were tortured and their families in barring release of these pictures. It's ass-covering.

A good portion of this country seems to think that the only abuse occurred at Abu Ghraib and was the result of a few low level grunts getting too rowdy. These photos would show that the abuse was much more widespread and a result of deliberate policy, even moreso than the torture memos, and would further demonstrate the horrors of the Bush Administration and the folly of waging unnecessary war.

Bingo. If people had overwhelmingly rejected the "bad apples" theory of Abu Ghraib, then there would be no need to release further photos from other sites. But since a huge number of people still apparently think that we water-boarded 3 hardcore terrorists and treated everyone else with kid gloves, there really isn't any choice but to keep on disclosing until people get what happened. Even if it doesn't lead to an investigation and prosecutions, what's important is not letting disgraceful, reprehensible policies be whitewashed out of the historical record.

From 10:25

noral = normal

Yes, Gary, President Obama isn't withholding evidence in the legal sense. But he is disobeying a court order. So, once again, we have a president who is making the highest office in the land above the law.

Why bother with a judicial branch?

What happened to his pledge for transparency?

Scott - I didn't argue that the government decided not to publish them because of the feelings of the victims - that's not something any of us can speak to. I argued that the reason why they shouldn't be published is the feelings of the victims.

Of course Americans are entitled to accountability and transparency, which is why investigations must happen. But in my book, the rights of those who were tortured to dignity and respect and to not have their images traded all over the world trump the rights of Americans to have the facts brought home to them.

Incidentally, the documents released by the Obama administration haven't been heavily redacted. And a dry recitation of the facts may be less likely to shock the public out of complacency, but it's also less likely to cost lives, and more likely to give real investigators real grounds for real prosecutions.

Justine -

I respect where you're coming from (a genuine desire to protect the real victims here) but respectfully disagree about how to get where we need to go. What's going to stimulate the outrage, outcry and political anger necessary to jar the establishment into conducting real investigations? An establishment that's demonstrated time and time again over the last few years that investigations are the last things they want to do? I believe our only real chance of generating that kind of movement is for the public to know and to recoil from, at the most visceral level, what we've done to these people. Otherwise, I don't think that meaningful investigations are going to happen, the kind that might generate actual justice and redress for the victims and accountability for the perpetrators. In addition, I do think the American people need to know exactly what these wars we're conducting actually mean, in ways they can see, for the people suffering from the effects of those wars. Perhaps then we can finally realize that it's not the tidy antiseptic vision of "freedom v. terror" we've been sold but a horror of death and suffering that we should actually do something about.

I believe our only real chance of generating that kind of movement is for the public to know and to recoil from, at the most visceral level, what we've done to these people.

the public has already seen those pictures for five years now. and they don't care enough to pressure their Reps.

it sucks, but it's true.

I do think the American people need to know exactly what these wars we're conducting actually mean, in ways they can see, for the people suffering from the effects of those wars

we've been seeing this for six years.

nobody is unaware of either of these things.

You're absolutely right, Scott, there needs to be outcry, and the pictures would definitely help create that. Myself, I think that the arguments against their release outweigh the benefits, but I see that it's going to be much harder to generate the kind of visceral response that you're talking about without them.

I suppose we just have to hope that there's a long way round. Documentary evidence may have less impact, but the drip feeding of more and more info to the media may eventually create a momentum of its own, and build in the public imagination - the "stream of blood seeping from under a closed door". It depends whether you believe this administration has the will to make it happen or not, and it depends whether or not the media does its job - which is never a foregone conclusion.

The notion that it is possible to conceal what was done by the US from the neighbors, friends, and families of the victims of US torture, by concealing the photographs, is nonsensical. In the countries where people have been taken prisoner, tortured, and murdered by the US military, is... nonsense.

The people from whom Bush, and now Obama, wish to conceal what was done to prisoners by the US, are not in Iraq or Afghanistan: they're in the US and the UK.

"Yes, Gary, President Obama isn't withholding evidence in the legal sense. But he is disobeying a court order. So, once again, we have a president who is making the highest office in the land above the law."

Not necessarily. My understanding is that he will go to the courts to get them to reverse the original order to release, which is the government's right.

You're missing the point, Jesurgislac. The people who were tortured already know what was done to them, so do their friends and family, so do we. That fact can't be concealed, and isn't being concealed - the release of the torture memos themselves shows that. Knowing what happened doesn't mean that it means nothing to those involved to see themselves or their loved ones hooded, beaten and broken on the TV or computer screen. Having it done to you or your family or your compatriot is one thing - that's happened, everybody knows it has, and the best thing we can hope for now is justice for those who did it. But having your image, taken against your will in those horrible circumstances, paraded in front of the world is quite another thing, and unless you can find each one of those people - some of whom, no doubt, were killed in US custody - and ask them what they think about it, using the photos like that is hugely problematic.

Imagine if it was one of your family - would you want their picture being used as a tool in some other nation's internal politics? Even if it was in a hugely important question of fundamental morality? If the pictures are going to be used in an investigation as evidence that a crime was committed, and thus to bring people to justice, that's one thing. To release the pictures simply to cause Americans to sit up and take notice is another. We can agree or disagree about whether or not it's worth it in terms of serving justice, but those people shouldn't be discounted as if they were less important than American public opinion.

"John Spragge and jrudkis are exactly right - it's too often forgotten that this is not just about Americans and America's soul. Those are real people in those pictures, and they were tortured, and they are now trying to rebuild their lives in shattered societies. How is it ok to publish their humiliated images for the world to look at in voyeurism, and for their friends and families to see? "

I may be missing something obvious here, but why can't you blur out the faces of the abused?

Glenn Greenwald is awesome ">today:

One would think that it would be impossible to train a citizenry to be grateful to political officials for concealing evidence of government wrongdoing, or to accept the idea that evidence that reflects poorly on the conduct of political leaders should, for that reason alone, be covered-up...It's the fantasy of every political leader to have a citizenry willing to think that way ("I know it's totally unrealistic, but wouldn't it be great if we could actually convince people that it's for their own good when we cover-up evidence of government crimes?").

It gets better from there.

Meh, here's the link.

"But he is disobeying a court order."

Wrong.

Appealing a court order is not "disobeying a court order." This is, respectfully, btfb, silly.

(Note that I'm not defending the withholding of the photos: I'm pointing out silly and wrongheaded claims.)

Something is very rotten:

Likewise, what I have learned is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002--well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion--its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa'ida.

So furious was this effort that on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney's office that their detainee "was compliant" (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP's office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qa'ida-Baghdad contacts yet. This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, "revealed" such contacts. Of course later we learned that al-Libi revealed these contacts only to get the torture to stop.

There in fact were no such contacts. (Incidentally, al-Libi just "committed suicide" in Libya. Interestingly, several U.S. lawyers working with tortured detainees were attempting to get the Libyan government to allow them to interview al-Libi....)

Though now I see what Cheney means when he says these techniques "work".

"I have to admit some ambivalence on this front."

Same here.

We've already seen enough, and know enough, about what went on. I'd rather see substantive action against the folks responsible, and leave the pictures out of it.

I'm with cleek, I doubt more pictures are going to motivate anyone to do anything about this stuff. If what we've seen already hasn't done it, I'm not sure what would.

And I do think there is an argument to be made for keeping them out of the public arena for reasons of basic decency and respect for the victims. They are, no doubt, graphic pictures of people being abused, degraded, and humiliated.

Is there a way to declassify them for use as evidence without releasing them for broad public distribution and publication? Maybe there's some middle way between withholding information and splashing people's humiliation all over the front page.

What a sick, sorry mess.

And I do think there is an argument to be made for keeping them out of the public arena for reasons of basic decency and respect for the victims. They are, no doubt, graphic pictures of people being abused, degraded, and humiliated.

If we're concerned about humiliating the victims shown in those photos, we have an easy solution: just digitally obscure their faces.

I doubt more pictures are going to motivate anyone to do anything about this stuff.

More pictures can provide evidence that abuse was more systemic than is widely believed by people who get their news from TV. There are lots of people in this country who haven't been following the torture news and don't understand how much we've learned about how widespread torture and detainee abuse was. Releasing more pictures from different places and times can help shift the public consensus to recognizing that we are a nation that abuses and tortures people for little reason and with no consequence.

Digitally obscuring the photos makes no difference.

There are two separate groups that can be hurt by this: first, the people directly involved, that is, the victims and their loved ones, and second, the communities who will see themselves in the images displayed - the 'there but for the grace of God go I' group.

Regarding the first group, blacking out faces is not going to make the victims unrecognisable. They'll recognise themselves, and so will their families. Even if they don't recognise themselves, they'll see themselves in the photos - this is what happened to them, to their sons or to their friends.

The second group don't know the victims personally - what they'll see is a member of their community degraded and humiliated and dehumanised and their image used as part of an American conversation. Doesn't matter whose face is there.

Whether you use people's faces or not, you're using their images. You can make the determination that it's worth it, but it's an inescapable fact that it can't be done without affecting the people involved.

Justine, your points are well taken, but it is not unlikely that some of the victims would WANT to see their pictures published in order to expose what their perpetrators had done to them, so we should really leave that up to them.

What I definitely want to know, though, is what exactly people like Sy Hersh and some senators who had access to all the evidence were talking about, when they mentioned things that were too terrible to even put in words (maybe my memory fails me, but I think that never got spelled out). ALL of this stuff should be published in detail, with or without photos (conditional on what I said above), on the front page of the NYT.

novakant, I agree completely. I'm sure some victims would definitely want the pictures published - exactly what I'm trying to argue for is recognising their right to be involved in the debate. And there's no excuse for not publishing all the information available, as soon and in as much detail as possible - as long as it can be done without injuring people who have already been injured enough.

Ugh was the first to identify the real point in the statement from Obama.

' "The publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals," Obama said yesterday. '

I am ambivalent about the realease of the photos. I've seen enough from the initial set to realize the horrors that were perpetrated! The real issue is the continuation of the meme of "a few bad apples." Yes indeed, justice has been served by prosecuting Linde England. Not!

I want to see prosecutions of those truly responsible for this: Cheny, Bush ....

Gary, my larger point remains: President Obama embracing secrecy over transparency is more of the same, more of the same Bush/Cheney crap, not Change We Can Believe In. I'm with those who think the release of these pictures may provoke additional pressure on Obama to push for an independent prosecutor because, sadly, it seems as if political pressure, not principle, will serve as his guide.

Agreed, watchininwonder. Obama's tortured use of the term "carried out" in his larger phrase "what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals," is not only the same tired song we've heard before, it continues to beg the question under whose (criminal?) orders was that "small number of individuals" operating? ("small number," by the way, compared to what? The total force in Iraq or the total number of prisoner-keeper-interrogators?) and will those who issued the orders be called to account? I'm less concerned about the ones who "carried out" the acts as I am about the one's who gave the unambiguous orders to do so... as well as how uniformly and consistently those orders were followed.

And, yes. Release the photos. Let's get to the very bottom of this cesspit, whatever it takes. And let's clean it the f#*k out.

"...may provoke additional pressure on Obama to push for an independent prosecutor...."

As I keep pointing out, Obama can't appoint an independent prosecutor: there's no law allowing for that any more.

Were there any expressions of ambivalence in comments here or elsewhere, outside objections from the usual Republicans (and Joe Lieberman, but I repeat myself) back several weeks ago when the Obama administration announced that it would be releasing these images? In fairness, there may not have been a main post to respond to.

But who has expressed objections? Ray Odierno, under whose command 4th ID troops got a reputation for dealing abusively or worse with Iraqis. There's a very good chance that some of those are in these photos.

Joe Lieberman, who has defended the Bush-Cheney torture regime and fought every effort to release information. Lindsey "you can't handle the truth!" Graham.

It was a fraudulent excuse when Bush used it, and it's a fraudulent excuse now.

Obama is in a jam, and trying to delay his way out of it. It's a jam created by the fact that several of his top commanders in the ongoing imperial quagmires have command responsibility for torture, but have not and probably will not be held accountable for it.

In order to proceed on the path he's chosen wrt the generals, Obama has also apparently felt it necessary to put out his own version of the 'bad apples' story: that all the torture throughout military detention centers has been investigated and perpetrators held accountable, and it was a small number of people, and it's all done now. All parts of that narrative are untrue.

It's the converse of the 'almost all the remaining prisoners at Guantanamo are threats' false narrative he started out his term with.

@Justine:

The courts have already dealt with the Geneva-protection-of-prisoners' privacy argument in the course of this case, and rejected it. A commenter at Emptywheel recently quoted that portion of a ruling; I will find it and link by the end of this evening so you can decide for yourself if you agree with the judges' thinking.

From all appearances, you are making that case for suppression of the images in good faith.

For the Bush administration DoJ (and DoD in a supporting brief), the goal was to suppress the images period, and the rights-of-prisoners tack was simply one more approach to try. They of course had the legal right to try to make any arguments open to them, but there is no reason to credit them with any sincere concern because they pursued such a point.

This reminds me a lot of Kant's excesses -- the whole "Truth telling is a moral duty, so even if telling the truth gets your friend killed, you are bound to do it."

@watchinginwonder:

The very fact that you already support prosecutions makes clear that you don't need to see these images.

But the U.S. as a whole needs for them to be released.

A great many people in this country have managed to avoid grasping how pervasive the abuse and torture of prisoners held by the U.S. has been. The value of these images is that they make undeniable the severity of illegal treatment, and that they demonstrate that it took place in Guantanamo, Afghanistan, and multiple locations in Iraq as well as in the CIA secret prisons.

A U.S. drone attack just killed almost a hundred children and many adults. The Defense Department's initial report was an underestimate so great as to constitute a lie. This has happened so often that it is fair to describe the DoD's approach as one of suppression and propaganda-through-minimization.

Should we suppress images of those killed? This is made a less pointed question by the fact that such suppression is already carried out by U.S. media, which can be "trusted" not to help citizens see what is being done in their name. Should we try to suppress news of the massacre altogether? Trust me, news of it enrages other Afghans who are far enough away not to have gotten personal accounts.

"As I keep pointing out, Obama can't appoint an independent prosecutor: there's no law allowing for that any more."

You mean if he uses the bully pulpit to push for such a thing Eric Holder -- who seems more inclined to go there as it is -- would not be influenced?

Also, what happened to the Obama who stressed the importance of transparency in government?

"In order to proceed on the path he's chosen wrt the generals, Obama has also apparently felt it necessary to put out his own version of the 'bad apples' story: that all the torture throughout military detention centers has been investigated and perpetrators held accountable, and it was a small number of people, and it's all done now. All parts of that narrative are untrue."

Unless you believe it was all the fault of the Linde Englands of the world, rogue soldiers gone bad or who don't know better.

The problem with not airing all this out in the open -- with not turning it over to a special prosecutor who would hopefully conduct a fair and impartial investigation -- is it winds up painting the whole miliatry with a bad, broad brush.

I thought President Obama was smarter than this.

Justine, I think you're worrying about nothing. Why do you think even the victims or family would recognize themselves with faces blurred? Would you recognize a picture of yourself from the neck down, shot at an angle other than the one I usually see in the mirror, in bad lighting, naked, bruised and/or bleeding, hair buzzed and/or snarled? I wouldn't.

Has any victim or family member yet protested at having such pictures shown? Not just the Gitmo detainees, but any other war crimes victim? I don't know of any attempts to, e.g., enjoin the publication of death camp liberation pictures from WWII.

"You mean if he uses the bully pulpit to push for such a thing Eric Holder -- who seems more inclined to go there as it is -- would not be influenced?"

Huh?

No, I mean that the Independent Counsel Reauthorization Act of 1994 expired in 1999, and there's no provision in law since then to appoint an independent counsel.

The only thing that can be done is appoint a prosecutor within the Department of Justice.

Democrats and Republicans alike shut down the legal provision for an independent counsel, first created by the Independent Counsel Act of 1978, in 1999. Republicans never liked it, and Democrats decided they didn't like it after Ken Starr. I said numerous times at the time that this was a bad decision, but there it is. It was a huge political debate, but maybe you missed it. We had an impeachment, and Congress got rid of the independent counsel. Independence was deemed a Bad Thing.

The Justice Department remains able to appoint any special prosecutor they like, but not an independent one; the DOJ can decide at any time they don't like any special prosecutor they appoint, and fire that prosecutor, and shut down the office and investigation. That wasn't the case when we had the Independent Counsel, which we thought was a good idea back in the day after Watergate, and during Iran-Contra.

Holder simply has no power to appoint an independent counsel; it can't be done. Not unless Congress passes a new law authorizing such a thing again.

Which is what I said.

"Democrats and Republicans alike shut down the legal provision for an independent counsel, first created by the Independent Counsel Act of 1978, in 1999."

To be technical, they didn't renew the Independent Counsel Reauthorization Act of 1994, which had a five year term, and expired in 1999.

@The Crafty Trilobite:

The U.S. govt's encouragement of publication of pictures of the Nazi camp survivors is, in fact, one of the points judges cited in refusing a Geneva-privacy exemption to the FOIA in the torture images, along with the reality that faces will be blurred, etc.

Going along with the NPR argument and the obvious longterm political calculations of Obama, I think it is likely that this is him using the opportunity to placate the right on an issue he doesn't have to decide.

Why feed the enemy when you don't have to? The photos will still be released, just delayed, and in the mean time, he is keeping his internal machine working with him rather than against him.

I didn't vote for him, but I think he has the savvy to accomplish what he wants by not losing the forest for the trees. This is a small issue (whether to release specific photos--not torture) and he can get more support for other stuff without losing this.

That generals with records like Odierno and McChrystal are not only not being held accountable for the prevalence of torture under their command, but promoted and catered to on this issue, is ... a mixed message.

Note that it's not just the U.S. government that has these supposedly "unreleased" photographs.

Though maybe these aren't the same ones.

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