Thursday, May 28, 2009

The latest on the still-suppressed Abu Ghraib torture photos

From the right-wing British paper Telegraph comes this headline: Abu Ghraib abuse photos "show rape". Here are a few bits from the article:

At least one picture shows an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male detainee.

Further photographs are said to depict sexual assaults on prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube.

Another apparently shows a female prisoner having her clothing forcibly removed to expose her breasts.


The graphic nature of some of the images may explain the US President’s attempts to block the release of an estimated 2,000 photographs from prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan despite an earlier promise to allow them to be published.

Maj Gen Taguba, who retired in January 2007, said he supported the President’s decision, adding: “These pictures show torture, abuse, rape and every indecency.

“I am not sure what purpose their release would serve other than a legal one and the consequence would be to imperil our troops, the only protectors of our foreign policy, when we most need them, and British troops who are trying to build security in Afghanistan.

“The mere description of these pictures is horrendous enough, take my word for it.”
Pardon me if I don't just take his word for it. As I see it, really all of the attempts to weasel out of coughing up the damning photos are self-serving for the powers that be. The old canard of "our troops will be put in more danger" by the release of these photos fails if for no other reason than that horse left the barn some time ago. Some of the photos were leaked to the Australian media a few years ago. Besides, one would imagine that all the bombing, human displacement, and such would have the victims of our current wars sufficiently maxed out on anger already as it is. The claim of "troop endangerment" may be the talking point to try to keep the American public shielded from what its government does, but what purpose does shielding really serve other than to allow those who authorized what happened to remain unaccountable a while longer?

Here's a bit of what I said about four years ago regarding the release of any additional Abu Ghraib photos:
Typically, as Haritos-Fatouros (2003) notes, there are a number of ways that governments and their respective societies can react to the news that their state police or military personnel are engaging in torture. One is denial. The release of the first set of pictures last year makes denial a moot point. It's obvious it did occur. Another approach is to minimize the torture, by simply villifying and punishing the supposed "few bad apples" who typically are the low men and women on the totem pole. Both of those approaches are certainly self-serving for the government, which would prefer to keep its current policies in practice. My take on the Abu Ghraib photos, then, is one of illumination. I see their release to the public as a means of shedding some light into what is going on in our US run prisons in Iraq (and perhaps elsewhere). By knowing what has happened, and learning how and why it happened, we have some hope in preventing future acts of torture.
Really, it's quite a mild statement considering the nature of what has taken place. A few weeks later, I added the following:
As the government tries to weasel its way out of forking over the remaining Abu Ghraib pictures, someone writing for Lenin's Tomb appropriately calls bullshit:
This is absolutely extraordinary. The logic of this argument is twofold and utterly, fatally bankrupt. It posits that:

i) If the consequences of revealing crimes which we fully acknowledge having committed threaten to prove harmful to our cause, we have no obligation to reveal them. I.e., the way to avoid harmful consequences is not to avoid committing the crimes, but to refuse to reveal them later, even when we've admitted to them.

ii) The fact that our enemies allegedly fabricate similar evidence of wrongdoing on our part absolves us of responsibility to reveal true, unfabricated evidence. This is completely fallacious; the one accusation, even if true, has exactly no bearing on the other assertion. If we didn't want to hand our opponents propaganda-on-a-platter, we might have considered not issuing orders abrogating international conventions on prisoner abuse. But tough luck, we did, and now we have to belly up to the fallout. The fact that it gives Iraqis more reason to loathe and resist us is not some unfortunate collateral effect, it is precisely the point.

The government's obligation to reveal the Abu Ghraib images is an obligation not particularly to Iraqi insurgents who may indeed use it for 'propaganda' purposes (wouldn't you?), but to its own citizens, to the abuse victims and Iraqi citizens who suffer under the jackboot of this depravedly human-rights-indifferent occupation, and in fact to the entire world, which has every moral right to demand accountability from the hyperpower that claims the quasi-divine prerogative of enforcing global Freeman Moxie at the point of a gun.
It's pretty damned obvious that our government is hell-bent on evading responsibility for its actions, and even more obvious that its leaders believe they can get away with it - perhaps with good reason given the state of whatever passes for journalism, "oppositional" political parties, etc. It is true that US citizens, as well as the world community, have the moral right to expect and in fact to demand accountability from the US government. It is equally true that this government does not respect moral rights. Hence we'll continue to get the usual morally and logically bankrupt arguments as to why "we" must "stay the course," why damning evidence of the horrifying consequences of its leaders' policies must be suppressed, and so on. The truth won't come out by politely asking for it.
Four years and one US regime change later, and it looks like the same old same old. Unless or until the American public faces up to what its government has done and in all probability continues doing, the abuses in question will continue to occur.

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