There's a lot of talk going on right now about the photos depicting heinous crimes committed by various American soldiers, translators, and other associates. Most people seem to come down into one of two camps; either they want these photos released, ostensibly because it would lead to a reckoning of some sort, both for the persons depicted in them, and more broadly for America as a whole, or those who think releasing the photos will harm us in the international community and directly endanger our troops by enraging those who would do them harm, while also not doing much to further justice.

I am disturbed by the ease with which the issue of torture and institutionalized violence toward detainees, something also oft-discussed on this site, and these photos have been tied together. Many of the comments I read in diaries on the subject seem to indicate that releasing these pictures will perhaps open the floodgates, create the consequences for all our transgressions some people seek, somehow "Show the world what we did."

The thing I find amazing, at the risk of being ridiculed as one of the "few bad apples" zombies (and I'm sure that's coming, no doubt) is that some of us seem willing to accept the notion that the two things are even remotely related. They are not.

The use of torture was an institutionalized, proscribed tactic specifically designed for the purpose of fabricating evidence that supported an illegal war. They tortured people to get them to lie about stuff so we had an excuse to do whatever we wanted in Iraq. It probably reached the highest levels of the executive branch, and was certainly employed in the interest of furthering the ambitions of President Bush and his NeoConservative advisors.

The things depicted in these photographs are, until proven otherwise, examples of isolated, though apparently fairly widespread, abuses of a criminal nature. They're vile, they're horrible, and they represent crimes that MUST be investigated. My personal feeling is that anyone who could take some of the actions described in the articles about the photos deserves to be fucking shot. But they are evidence in a criminal matter. Evidence is not for public distribution, it's for the judge, the lawyers, and the jury to see. It is are not fodder for various political factions, including ours, to spin in a way that benefits our cause.

The argument that they will be used against us for recruiting purposes is a perfectly valid one. As I said, if released, people will use the images to further their agendas. It is my estimation that the President weighed the likely outcomes of this decision, and chose this path because he believes it's best for the country. We have to give him the benefit of the doubt sometimes.

The major caveat to this view is that I am, for the purposes of this argument, assuming that these incidents were the result of actions undertaken by a few criminal assholes that were acting on their own. Obviously, were anyone to produce proof that these actions were ordered or sanctioned by someone up the chain of command, that is something that would be and should be investigated thoroughly and exhaustively. But the likelihood is that that is not the case. And to trot out the justification that "this was done in our name" for releasing these pictures dilutes something much more important; the necessity of an investigation into the torture that ACTUALLY WAS committed "in our name," insofar as it was sanctioned and ordered from the top down.

The GOP noise machine is trying to equate the two things, to mash up Abu Gharib and torture-for-"proof" and these photos into one 30-second soundbite that they can dismiss with one central argument: "We did it all for our country." The view of some on this site seems to be that if that's their opinion, we should make them own it by releasing the photos and somehow forcing them to justify what's depicted in them. This is folly, for two reasons. One, they'll just weasel out of it, and two, it's allowing them to dispatch a much more significant issue right along with this.

This is another conceit of this diary; I feel that the greater crime by far is the torture ordered by our government to lie our way into a war. Maybe some people feel differently. I don't think by any means that these abuses are no big deal, as I said, I think they are crimes that should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and if I had my druthers I'd be OK with hauling the rapist translator out back and putting a bullet in his head. (That's me, and it's probably a good thing I'm not in charge of that stuff.) But the point remains; these are two separate issues, and should not be equated to one another, or even put on the same level in terms of our outrage.

Releasing the photos would put these crimes front and center, and would suck all the air out of the discussion of torture, just as the evidence is mounting to warrant an investigation. It takes a systemic crime of epic proportions and gives it a human face, a few scapegoats to blame to whole issue on. Sorry, but the news-watching, non-Kos reading American public is not likely to draw distinctions. We'll make a big show, put a few people on trial, and the whole (much more important) torture discussion goes away.

It's a smokescreen. Someone is pushing this agenda, playing the media here to get these two things lumped together. People do horrible things every day, much worse than what's in those pictures. Just because it happens in a war zone or a military prison does not mean it was done "in our name." These are criminals, the photos are evidence, and it should be handled as such. Torturing detainees to get false information was a separate, much more dangerous crime, and THAT is the crime that was committed "in our name." The right wants the two to be the same issue. Can we afford to let it be framed that way?

Originally posted to Surly Cracker on Thu May 28, 2009 at 09:34 AM PDT.


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