Release torture photos

Ryan Day

President Obama is working toward barring the release of a number of photos that show abuse of Iraqi detainees by U.S. military personnel. This is a marked change from the decision made by the Pentagon last month to release the photos.
Obama’s choice to not release the photos is based on the suspected potential for their release to cause significant harm to the U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said, “Both General McKiernan and General Odierno have expressed very serious reservations about this and their very great worry that release of these photographs will cost American lives.”
On the other end of the spectrum, the ACLU and activist organizations have argued that the release of the photographs is necessary in order for rule of law to be upheld and the military officials involved in these abuses to be held accountable. In a press release from the ACLU, Anthony D. Romero said, “Only by looking squarely in the mirror, acknowledging the crimes of the past and achieving accountability can we move forward and ensure that these atrocities are not repeated.”
It is worth paying attention to the consequences of releasing these photos. It all comes down to cost/benefit analysis: Does the cost of potential trouble that might be stirred up in Iraq and Afghanistan outweigh the benefit of showing the people of the United States the truth as to what is happening in these prisons?
It is unfathomably important for the public to know what kind of military action its government is participating in. Blogger Andrew Sullivan put it best when he wrote, “Without photos, we would never have heard of the mass abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib. Bush and Cheney would be denying today that any of it happened at all. When the photos were uncovered, revealing clearly what the anodyne words ‘stress position,’ ‘mock execution,’ ‘forced nudity,’ etc. actually meant, we finally were able to hold the government accountable for the abuse it authorized.”
So we know what the benefit will be – the government will be held accountable. Being held accountable is the first step in enacting any level of change in this situation. Being held accountable means, theoretically, that acts of torture and humiliation like those shown in these photos will happen less.
And what is the cost? It is a specter, a hunch. A possible outcome that no one can guarantee. This is exactly what the Second Circuit Court of Appeals said when they approved the release of the photos. Their decision was that public interest outweighed the potential reaction, but in no way guaranteed, outrage in the Middle East.
The truth of the matter is this: If Obama goes through with the suppression of these photos, he is just another American politician struggling to cover up the war crimes of the Bush administration. This means that he is just as complicit in these war crimes as anyone else. In a case that is constantly threatening to blow wide open, backing the law-breaking of the Bush administration is not a place that President Obama should want to find himself.