June 11, 2009

Those Kodak Moments from the Bush Era

Although I was asked recently for my opinion on this Big Question of whether the most recent batch of torture photos should be released, or suppressed along the lines demanded by Senators Joe Losingit,man (Idiopathic, CT) and Lindsey Ismybutttoobig Graham (R, Deep Closet), I have demurred from so opining. Until now, I guess. Barack is with the two stalwart Defenders of the Troops on this one, whereas the ACLU is the other way.  The ACLU won their FOIA case so the proposed Congressional intervention, actually, amounts to a kind of bill of attainder of the sort used in the Terry Schiavo case, a special statutory enactment to reverse a result in a specific lawsuit.  What the hell - it's not as if the Constitution matters anymore.

The court ruled that the FOIA exceptions for national security had not been demonstrated by the Department of Defense.  Obama, Losingit,man and Graham, on the other side, contend that the photos amount to cumulative evidence of things we already know about, and if the photos are released, the troops in harm's way in Iraq and Afghanistan
 will be endangered more than they're endangered already by fighting completely pointless, inflammatory wars in very hostile territory.  

Obama's position represents a reversal of his earlier decision in favor of disclosure.  That's okay with me.  Changing his mind, I mean.  His predecessor prided himself on often being in error but always resolute.  Bush never changed his mind simply because all of the facts and the rationale for his earlier decision had vanished.  W just wasn't that wishy-washy.  But Barack says, on further review, that we don't really need to disclose another photo album full of naked Arabs being humiliated, led around on leashes, piled up in pyramids, and probably much worse.  If these photos get out, then we can expect more roadside explosions, more random attacks on U.S. soldiers, and increased overall murder & mayhem.

I think that's probably right.  I doubt that we'd learn anything materially new.  The sado-homoerotic excesses of the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld years have been well documented already. They messed with these Arabs not to "break" them or to elicit valuable information, but because they got off on it.  Of course, that's the whole problem.  It's why these photos would be so inflammatory - those subjected to this sort of humiliation and their countrymen are going to explode if this documentary evidence sees the light of day because they know how pointless, gratuitous and frigging sick all of that stuff was, and they're under no illusions it was the work of a few bad apples.

The White House, in league with Senators Losingit,man and Graham, have the advantage of arguing now that these photographs are of historical interest only because the Obama Administration doesn't do that sort of thing.  They abide by the Geneva Conventions and the Army Field Manual in handling detainees, with the small possible glitch of detaining people for life without charges and without even necessarily believing that any case could be proved. Nobody's perfect.  Still, point for their side.  The ACLU's argument is simpler: we won our FOIA case and the Administration is stonewalling.

The morality of the situation is somewhat ambiguous.  The Administration's argument amounts to a claim that these photographs are the best proof of abuse and provide clear, graphic evidence of what we did to detainees.  Providing this clear proof to the Arab world will make them angry about things we actually did, as demonstrated by the photos.  So we must not provide this evidence to the world at large, because then all U.S. soldiers, even that great majority who have had no part in the abuse, will be at greater risk.

I guess where I come out on this is that there just doesn't seem to be a heroic stand to take.  I think both wars are pointless in the first place, and the invasions have been accompanied by hideous, flagrant and unnecessary human rights violations, which we would like to cover up to the extent still possible.  That's our moral position.  It seems like a long way from Nuremburg. Still, what good does it do to get more U.S. soldiers killed in an effort to make a "clean breast" of something which cannot be exorcised?  More guys come home in coffins, more Arabs die in the gunfights and explosions which follow, and all to prove what we already know.  

I suppose that's the intellectual and emotional journey that Barack Obama followed in arriving where he did.  Nothing very uplifting about it.  Interference with the processes of law, a coverup and suppressed evidence.  Yippee.

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