Quick Take: Release All the Pictures

Obama did a neat political straddle yesterday on the issue of images of stated mistreatment of detainees by US and Coalition forces. First he’s for it and then he’s against it.

We’ll talk more about his weathervane-like characteristics some other time, but I thought I’d take a moment and think through a position that I think is defensible.

What isn’t defensible – in my mind – is either of the mainstream positions, which are really more about domestic political advantage than about really dealing with the hard, Jessup-like questions that do sometimes have to be asked and acted on. Note that at the end of Jack Nicholson’s impassioned speech, he was led off in irons.

Hiding the pictures means we’re ashamed of them, and gives license to fantasies of darker, more brutal secrets than probably are to be seen there.

Showing them is really about self – flagellation and the neat political trick of tying your political opponent to one’s back before picking up the whip.

Each of those acts is a puppet’s reaction to greater forces pulling on strings.

Let’s tie the strings in knots, and break the frame that is being hung around the images and around the events they depict. Let’s do that by hanging a larger, more powerful frame around them.

Let’s by all means release the pictures – all of them. Let’s release the pictures of the Al Qaeda torture cells in Fallujah, and of their victims. Let’s release the videos of torture and murder from jihadi websites.

Let’s not let our people off if they did wrong – but let’s please put their actions into context as we make that decision. I’ve publicly opposed torture for some time, and I think that we have a real issue with harsh treatment that scales into torture. I also think we have a real issue with people who (in the extreme) think that offering a detainee a stale Danish instead of a freshly-baked one is tantamount to getting out the blowtorch and pliers.

So let’s broaden everyone’s understanding, and see what kind of discussion emerges from that.


6 thoughts on “Quick Take: Release All the Pictures”

  1. It would make not the slightest impression on the Blame America For Everything crowd. Such as your friend Kevin Drum, for whom any such display would be propaganda and war-mongering.

  2. Why would hiding the pictures have to mean we’re ashamed of them? The Pope just finished a trip to the Middle East without telling Muslim crowds that accepting Jesus as Christ is the one true path to heaven; did he become ashamed of his faith, or did he just decide that saying the Pope is still Catholic would accomplish nothing beyond eliciting more foaming-at-the-mouth hatred and probably bloodshed from Muslim hysterics?

  3. Yeah, I really don’t see the point. Will any more useful information come to light? Will the pictures change anybody’s mind one way or another? Or will they just be splashed all over the news and used for propaganda by our enemies?

  4. _The Pope just finished a trip to the Middle East without telling Muslim crowds that accepting Jesus as Christ is the one true path to heaven_

    He also didn’t mention that he was a member of the Hitler youth. One of these things he should apologize for, one he shouldn’t.

    As far as the pics, I would rather it’s all out in the open, instead of the slow dribble of leaks. It’s already gotten to the point where people are desensitized to the torture issue, and that allows people to minimize the events that have occurred.

    Let’s get it all out in the open, be clear what we did and did not do, and face it head on.

  5. If I were forced to be a member of the hitler youth as a child, I would probably feel that an acknowledgment was at least necessary. Still, going to Israel at all was a decent start. Sorry, got off on a non-sequitor.

    Back to the pictures though, yes, pictures (especially quick action shots of a battlefield) can misrepresent the action before, and after the shot is staken. But we’re not talking about pictures on the battlefield here. We’re talking about pictures by soldiers intentionally abusing prisoners, taking time to plan the abuse and the camera for …. amusment? further interrogation? revenge?

    I am unsure why such pictures are necessary. But the fact that they exists suggest far different circumstances than a journalist who caught a millisecond snap in Vietnam.

    If someone is having their head slammed into a wall while another officer is taking pictures, there’s no misreading intent.

    If a captive is a tied to a chair while water is poured into his nostrils, and another is there taking pictures, we probably have a pretty good idea what’s going on.

    If there’s a picture where an inmate is stuffed inside of a sleeping bag while 2 other man repeatedly dive bomb this man’s legs until later he is found dead from internal hemorrhage from the legs, this wishy-washy “picture is misleading” crap gets thrown right out the window.

    We’ll just have to see how clear the pictures are.

  6. Membership in the Hitler Youth was compulsory for children his age.

    Why would he need to apologize for something he was forced to do as a child, by one of the most oppressive governments of the 20th Century?

    One of the most (if not THE most) famous photos from the Vietnam War is the execution of Nguyen Van Lem by Nguyen Ngoc Loan. It was a powerful anti US/South Vietnam propaganda tool because, while powerful, it was very misleading. The photographer, Eddie Adams, later wrote:

    I won a Pulitzer Prize in 1969 for a photograph of one man shooting another … The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. What the photograph didn’t say was, “What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers?” General Loan was what you would call a real warrior, admired by his troops. I’m not saying what he did was right, but you have to put yourself in his position.

    …This picture really messed up his life. He never blamed me. He told me if I hadn’t taken the picture, someone else would have, but I’ve felt bad for him and his family for a long time. I had kept in contact with him; the last time we spoke was about six months ago, when he was very ill.

    I sent flowers when I heard that he had died and wrote, “I’m sorry. There are tears in my eyes.”

    –Eddie Adams

    We will never win any war in a courtroom.

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