Like many here, I've been reading the back and forth banter between those who support Obama's decision to backtrack on the release of abuse photos and those who feel he is making a mistake.
Personally I feel horrified by this decision. And it is that personal aspect that I think needs to be explored. The abuse that occurred did not happen in a vacuum. It was done in our names, on a personal level, in my name. And in the name of every American.
Obama's logic presents a paradox. On the one hand he says the photos are not that inflamatory, not that bad. But that begs the question, if that is the case, then what could be the harm in releasing them?
If these photos are really so benign then they should pose no threat to our troops either at home or abroad. So there is no legitimate reason to keep them hidden from the public.
I suspect that, and I know this hurts for all of us, Obama is lying about that. I know that's inflamatory and will surely raise the ire of many here, but I don't beleive in euphemisms in a case like this.
Having said that, I would also point out that there is a larger moral imperitive here that really must be acknowledged. Anyone who has watched this debate unfold can not have failed to notice how, thanks to Dick Cheney and his family along with a media as easily distracted by this as would be a magpie confronted with a shiny object, the debate has shifted from one in which the focus was on whether torture abuse was used and who ordered it, to a debate regarding it's efficacy.
It seems that the inherent immorality of the subject has been completely bypassed. In some sense, a masterful job of media manipulation by Cheney. And that is the greatest tragedy of all. Because it is the question of morality that should be the overriding focus of this issue.
Watching media hacks like Chris Matthews I am dumbfounded. His focus and even the focus of many who argue the progressive side of this issue fail to understand this. They focus on whether torture was technically legal. That is irrelevant, the question transcends legality. There is a higher moral imperitive here.
Legality is something determined by the courts, by documents and papers, by arguments and speeches and decisions. Under the Nazi regime, under the Khemer Rouge, and under many middle eastern monarchies, torture is or was legal. What makes torture so abhorrent, what makes it internationally unacceptable is not whether it's legal, it is the universal recognition of the fact that it is morally reprehensible. Laws and treaties are simply the vehicle by which we punish and hopefully prevent it's use.
Torture violates the fundamental precepts of human rights, that all humans have a right to exist with dignity and regardless of how heinous their actions may have been, we recognize their fundamental humanity and at a minimum, we continue to acknowledge that.
We do that because the moment we accept the dehumanization of anyone, for any reason, we open a veritable pandora's box. The greater demons of our nature are let loose to prey upon all humanity. We acknowledge the notion that it is possible for a person to lose their humanity, to lose their right to even the most basic of human rights, and from there it is a very short leap from a person to a people.
Torture is such a vehicle for dehumanization, we therefore can never back off even by even the tiniest measure from our fundamental core precepts that all humans are entitled to basic human rights.
As a nation, if we are to move forward, if we are to retain our national dignity, our credibility that we as a nation are a force for good, then we must endure the national atonement and following catharsis that can only come from publicly acknowledging the full measure of depravity to which we as a nation have fallen, before we can ever fully recover. As the allied troops finished off the Nazi forces in Germany, upon discovering the horrors of the death camps, commanders rounded up townspeople and forced them to face what had been done in their name. Townspeople watched as bulldozers shoveled human beings; men, women, children into trenches for burial. The watched as gas chambers and ovens were opened still containing the remains of freshly murdered victims by the hundreds, if not thousands.
They were not able to escape the reality that their complacency and their denial had facilitated. But much more than this, it shocked the psyche of the German citizenry. Faced with the inescapable horrors they had at best unwittingly permitted, and at worse, tacitly consented to through inaction and unwillingness to challenge authority, they began to search their own souls. It was undoubtedly a period of great pain and shame for an entire nation.
As a result of this, Germany has become one of the world's most stalwart defenders of human rights. The phrase Nie Wieder (Never Again) was coined during this period. It acknowledged Germany's acceptance of it's past evils and an iron clad commitment to never allow them again. In Germany, it is a serious federal crime to deny the holocost. They take this very seriously.
This kind of national reconciliation and catharsis is necessary for a people to both heal and return to the world stage as an accepted and respected member of the world community. Only when we are forced to face the very worst of our national shame, can we as a nation begin the healing. Without it, we would be consigned to worldwide pariah status, universally distrusted and disdained. Our government will be viewed with suspicion, our people with disgust. It will impact our foreign relations, trade, and our interests both at home and abroad.
As long as we are allowed to defend the indefensible, as long as there are torture apologists and denialists credibly presented as purveyors of reasoned opinion, we will fail to emerge from the depths of our national shame.
We must face what was done in our names, we must acknowledge the crimes that were perpetrated as government policy, and we must prosecute those who ordered, facilitated, and executed these heinous acts. We must accept the risks that these may actions entail, we must accept the added burdon of insuring the safety of our troops that this may add. This is the price we must pay for the cleansing of our collective national soul.
That national healing can not begin until all of the horrors of abuse, torture, and war crimes are laid bare for all to see.