Plumb Lines

May 13, 2009

The 83rd Waterboarding

Filed under: Uncategorized — Michael E. van Landingham @ 4:07 pm

Obama just broke a lot of hearts out there. He’s going to try to stall the release of more photographs of detainee abuse that took place at various prisons during the Bush administration. For many who believed Obama was on the side of exposing torture, this is a huge blow. I think Obama still believes it is torture, but that he just doesn’t think releasing all of the photos is a grand idea. Matt has already had a go with Andrew Sullivan about this issue, and another reader just brought up Matt’s point to Sullivan again. I am going to have to agree with Matt (and the President) here. There is no need to release more photos.

Short of an insatiable desire to have all information available to the public, I really cannot see what can be gained from releasing such a flood of photos. I do see what could be lost. The proliferation of shocking images could be used as an even greater rallying cry to attack American soldiers, perhaps even American civilians. I admit I never thought I would sympathize with this argument when it was used in the early days of Abu Ghraib, but I bet Obama never did either. And then he spoke with the generals. The difference in this case is that we needed to see to believe the depths of the evil of the torture program. The photos released by the Washington Post showed that.

The whole world knows about our torture program. To disclose what went on is not wrong since the fact America tortured was no longer confidential. But  more photos of Americans abusing Muslims will merely provide a greater body of recruiting material for radical Islamists and will not help us improve our image. Prosecutions will. We certainly need to investigate all involved in this debacle, and those photos will be key evidence at trial. Beyond that, I see no good coming of these photos, other than satisfying the curiosity of bloggeurs everywhere. I can see a lot of bad coming from it.

That Sullivan gets so dyspeptic about not seeing every single photo of a stress position or of a man being menaced by an Alsatian is odd. As a society are we not able to comprehend what weight the adjectives “systematic” and “pervasive” bear when used to modify the disgusting compound noun phrase “torture program?” If people do not already accept prima facie that torture is evil, what will 1,000 photographs do to change that? What will photo #999 say that photo #231 doesn’t?

Releasing more photos is like waterboarding a man 83 times: nothing changes. The victim will have the same information, the same terror he had on the first go-round. And torture is still torture from whatever angle it is photographed.

-Michael E. van Landingham



  1. I think the outcry for the photos is symptomatic of the mindset on the Left. As outraged as some may be that we did this to people, I think far more liberals are interested in revenge rather than justice. They see every photo as another strike against the Bush administration and damn the consequences.

    The feeling I have had from the start is that Obama has probably been briefed on the use of torture, not just under Bush, but going back through several administrations. He also probably has a nice big file that details all of the intelligence we have gained through torture and quite frankly he wants to make sure he has the option should it become necessary. I think he is doing his best to put the brakes on this train before the govt is forced to reveal things that will actually make most Americans sympathetic towards Bush and/or implicate previous administrations, including that of the husband of our Sec. of State.

    Presidents are forced to operate in the gray areas of the law in the interest of national security. I think Obama recognizes the bad precedent it would set if an administration was prosecuted for dabbling in the gray in the interest of national security.

    Comment by Mike — May 14, 2009 @ 11:54 am

  2. Yes, Bill Clinton is certainly on the hook for extraordinary rendition. The Bush administration, however, was not trying to operate in the “gray area” as you suggest. They wanted a black-and-white definition of what was and was not torture, hence the plethora of memoranda and legalese that went into creating a program. I am fine if a president chooses to do something not so nice on a case-by-case basis, but the Bush administration institutionalized an illegal act.

    I’m sure Obama knows he’ll have to make a call at some point, but let that fall to him. Hopefully he will take responsibility for it as a crime, rather than hiding behind poor legal reasoning like the last crowd. That’s why people think Jack Bauer is great– he damns the torpedoes and gets results. The Bush administration were really covering themselves first, an inherently cowardly act.

    Comment by Michael E. van Landingham — May 14, 2009 @ 1:45 pm

  3. […] E. van Landingham @ 6:46 am According to The Telegraph, some of the Abu Ghraib photos that the Obama administration is refusing to release contain images of rape and sexual assault. […]

    Pingback by The Unreleased Abu Ghraib Photographs, Ctd. « Plumb Lines — May 28, 2009 @ 6:46 am

  4. […] Confessional Politics Filed under: Uncategorized — Matthew Schmitz @ 9:50 am Michael has pointed out that some abuse photos show acts never before seen. I have never thought of the Muslim world as a crowded theater, but releasing these photos would be like entering one and yelling “Fire!” At the same time, I think that perpetuating lies will not, in the end, save lives. The truth about American misdeeds should be outed. […]

    Pingback by Confessional Politics « Plumb Lines — May 28, 2009 @ 9:50 am

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