Monday, August 15, 2005

Torture Song Trilogy

Okay, so. BushCo is still fighting the release of additional Abu Ghraib images tooth & nail. They have apparently abandoned the truly laughable "It would humiliate the torture victims" rationale (I think that ship has already sailed, eh?), and have moved on to how "al-Qaeda and other groups will seize upon these images and videos as grist for their propaganda mill." Phila has an excellent post covering the moral bankruptcy of this strategy, but I want to talk a little bit about the stakes here, and why it's so important to the administration to suppress any more Abu Ghraib pictures.

Why should this be a big deal? After all, we've already seen pictures from Abu Ghraib, and everyone was suitably outraged. Even if the new pictures are worse, does it really make that big of a difference? Well, consider: Americans generally have short attention spans, and need the immediacy that images provide. Verbal descriptions of Abu Ghraib (and later, Gitmo) had absolutely zero effect. And now that everyone's seen the pictures, they're old news, and the scandal is essentially forgotten.

So why is this important now? Because when the first wave of Abu Ghraib pictures was released, the administration successfully palmed responsibility off on "a few bad apples," and most people were satisfied with that. But since then, revelations have come out about very similar tactics being employed at Guantanamo Bay, and still more damning, the fact that the torture and humiliation started at Abu Ghraib shortly after the general in charge of Gitmo transferred to Iraq. Right now, those linkages are dormant, because all they do is link a non-story (no photos of Gitmo) to an ex-story (old news!). But release additional photos from Abu Ghraib, and some people will start asking the same how-could-this-happen questions again. And this time, the old excuses will be a lot harder to sustain.

Conversely, if the administration succeeds in suppressing the additional Abu Ghraib photos, the coverup of their culpability will be successful. No-one will dig into the connections between Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, the connections that demonstrate that torture was systemic, pervasive, and instituted from a very very high level. We need those pictures to come out, and we need someone to start asking the right questions. A congressional investigation and/or special prosecutor would be appropriate but unlikely. Let's hope the media is on the job this time, or that the bad apples have some intrepid, fearless, and publicity-seeking legal representation.


scout prime said...

Good post Eli.
I hope they come out.

Andy said...

This whole mess is so shameful. I would take exception to your statement that "everyone was suitably outraged" the first time. There were plenty of people who said things like, "Hey, we may be taking pictures of naked people stacked in pyramids, but we're not sawing their heads off and putting the tape out on the internet." You know, so as long as our humane standards are a notch higher than al Qaeda's, we're fine, apparently. Also ignoring the fact that the overwhelming majority of detainees in Cuba, Abu Ghraib and Bagram have never been charged with any crime and have no access to international basic standards of access to counsel or other legal processes. The Right of course defends this by saying, "They're terrorists operating outside the scope of international law, therefore international law does not apply." Convenient, though, that no one has to prove to any extent that these people actually ARE terrorists.

John McCain said it best recently when he -- a former Vietnam POW -- said the debate was not about who THEY are, but who WE are.

Eli said...

Points well taken, Andy. I was trying to channel the majority zeitgeist reaction, which I think *was* outrage and horror that Americans were treating prisoners this way, but with very little attention to the legal aspects of it. I don't know whether that was due to the giant throbbing images sucking all their attention away from the dry legal stuff, or whether they just didn't care whether the prisoners were guilty or even charged with anything or not.

And yes, there were lots of people saying, "Hey, what's the big deal?" (most of them fundamentalists who are not worthy of the name Christians, I suspect), but I think they were mostly die-hard Bush supporters and apologists. I think everyone in the middle and slightly to the right thereof really was genuinely horrified.

Emphasis on "was."

oldwhitelady said...

So, what we might now be seeing is that the "few bad apples" have grown into "trees full of bad apples"?