Last Wednesday, under the advice of Pentagon officials, President Obama reversed a decision to comply with an appeals court's May 28th deadline for the public release of dozens photos depicting acts of abuse and torture perpetrated on detainees in U.S. custody by U.S. military personnel. The President now argues the public release of the photos should be withheld from public view because the situations depicted in the photos have already been investigated by the Pentagon, and some of the U.S. personnel who perpetrated the abuses have already been punished. Obama said in a May 13 press statement:
[. . .] this is not a situation in which the Pentagon has concealed or sought to justify inappropriate action. Rather, it has gone through the appropriate and regular processes. And the individuals who were involved have been identified, and appropriate actions have been taken.
It's therefore my belief that 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. 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.
Moreover, I fear the publication of these photos may only have a chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse. And obviously the thing that is most important in my mind is making sure that we are abiding by the Army Manual and that we are swiftly investigating any instances in which individuals have not acted appropriately, and that they are appropriately sanctioned. That's my aim and I do not believe that the release of these photos at this time would further that goal.
When we at MOMocrats discussed President Obama's decision to fight the court-ordered release of these photos, we discovered that our writers held a range of views on the pros and cons of the President's new position. Here is what six of the MOMocrats had to say about whether or not more photos of U.S. troops abusing and torturing prisoners should be publicly released:
Arguments Against the Release of More Torture Photos
Stefania: I do NOT want to see any torture photos. I am very sensitive (despite all my bluster sometimes) to images that are disturbing. I can understand the breadth and scope of the problem without seeing any more photos. I've seen enough photos of war atrocities to last several lifetimes.
Are they going to be worse than anything we've already seen? Maybe it's too personal an issue for me. I don't think I can see anything worse than Napalm-stripped Vietnamese children or Jews being shot, 3-4 lined up in a row so the SS could use the same bullet, over an open grave.
Stephanie: In the last few days this has been a hot topic among my military family friends. And most of these people are liberals. But when my friend who is a military wife and a die hard liberal is talking about the possible repercussions to her husband who is an infantry officer in the most dangerous part of Afghanistan, I get where Joe Lieberman is coming from.
Julie: I believe Obama has a point, here. There is precedent. I also think no right can come from such a very big wrong, other than (a) stopping it pronto an (b) holding culpable those who should be. A is well underway and I think (because of Nixon) B is a pipe dream.
What purpose do the photos serve, if deniability is off the table? What is our goal? Is the goal to prove it happened? Done. Is the goal to prosecute perpetrators? In that case, the photos can be displayed at trial, but not publicly.
Arguments for the Release of More Torture Photos
Joanne: No matter how disturbing the photos, isn't it important to see them? What if the government had kept photos of the Holocaust, concentration camps and their victims from the world?
What's wrong with the goal of letting us all know exactly what happened to put the record straight after being lied to by Bush for eight years?
Cynematic: I believe it will be difficult, if not impossible for Obama to keep a lid on these pics (and supposedly video of US contractors sodomizing young Iraqi boys, according to a brief mention by Seymour Hersh in Salon some years back).
But it's appalling to me that the Bush Administration — leaders of our country — were the direct cause of so many needless deaths. For those reasons, I feel we need to resolve this before the key players die, forget, or "vanish" the documentation of their deeds.
Jaelithe: Though I certainly understand the fear expressed by the President, some Senators, and members of the Pentagon that release of more photos depicting U.S. soldiers and personnel mistreating and torturing detainees in U.S. custody may cause harm to U.S. troops currently in the field of battle who had nothing to do with these incidents and in fact have conducted themselves appropriately and well, and while I sympathize deeply with the families of soldiers who worry about repercussions for their loved ones, I cannot bring myself to justify continued attempts to hide the evidence of torture of prisoners in U.S. custody from public view on the basis that the sight of these photos may cause anger against the United States.
I think anger against the United States is a justified response to what the United States has done — or rather, to what certain citizens of the United States did under the direction of the Bush Administration, in violation of our own Constitution, our own system of laws, and our treaty agreements with other countries.
Let us not forget that many of the detainees pictured in these photos were being held in U.S. custody indefinitely, without trial, and in many cases on the basis of incorrect or very flimsy evidence. In other words, some of the people who were imprisoned, stripped naked, beaten, starved and tortured in the name of protecting American citizens were actually innocent people with no real connection to al Qaeda, the Taliban, or any other forces we were supposed to be fighting in Bush's War on Terror.
Let us not forget, either, that some of the detainees subjected to these "enhanced interrogation techniques" were actually children who may have been as young as 12 or 14 at the time of their capture.
People are already angry about these facts. I, as a U.S. citizen, am angry about these facts. And I find that anger to be justified.
Whether or not these additional photos of abused and tortured detainees are released to the public, the truth is that people around the world, based on the evidence that has already been publicly revealed about mistreatment and torture of detainees in U.S. custody, are already angry that these things happened. A substantial number of United States citizens are angry that these things were done in their name. And people from other countries whose fellow citizens were subject to this treatment while in U.S. custody are, of course, justifiably angry about torture. Already. We can't change that fact.
All we can do now to protect our troops from backlash is try to either assuage that anger, or to make sure that the anger is appropriately directed at the people who ordered and committed acts of abuse and torture, and not at U.S. troops in general or at the United States at large.
So I think the question at hand here is not really, "Will the public release of these photos make people angry at the United States?" Because people are already angry at the United States.
I think the questions we need to be asking instead are "How can we best show the world, and our own citizens, that we know what happened under the Bush Administration was wrong? How can we best show that do not want this to happen again? How can we best show the world that we are sorry that it happened?" I think that last part is really the key — how do we show to the world that we are sorry that these acts were committed in our name?
Because I don't think it's enough to say to the world that this won't happen again. If we are going to address the anger people around the world already feel about U.S. government-sponsored torture, we need to make it clear that we understand it never should have happened in the first place.
And I think the best way to do that is to release all of the evidence of mistreatment and torture of detainees in U.S. custody publicly, and to do this knowing that it will shame us, knowing that it might endanger our diplomatic efforts, and might even endanger our troops. I think that in fact the only way to even begin to assuage international anger about the Bush administration's detention and torture policies is to accept responsibility for those policies, in the most open and transparent way possible.
Anyone who has learned how to make a decent apology knows this: If you are going to apologize for a grievous mistake, in order for anyone to take your apology seriously, the very first thing you must do is admit that you were in error and accept responsibility for the negative consequences of that error.
And so I think that people in other countries will not fully accept our assertions that we have turned the page on mistreatment and torture of detainees in our custody until we stop attempting to conceal the evidence of it.
I believe we endanger our troops even more, in the long run, by continuing to conceal evidence of torture than we would by releasing that evidence in good faith now. And really, I worry that people in other countries will not believe we are sincere about ending unlawful treatment of prisoners unless we show we intend hold those who ordered these acts of mistreatment and torture responsible for breaking international laws.