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.