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