May 13, 2009

Get ready for Abu Ghraib Redux:

[N]ow a new batch of photographs, perhaps hundreds of images, of prisoners being abused is about to be made public. It comes at a time when the debate over prisoner mistreatment is still roiling America's political and public conscience. The new photographs are being made public in a victory for the American Civil Liberties Union. And the Pentagon, after fighting, and losing, three federal court reviews of the matter, has waved the white flag and is now preparing to release the pictures. Some of the photographs are official; some, like the original Abu Ghraib collection, taken informally by soldiers. "We know this could make things tougher for our troops," a senior Pentagon official says, "but the court decisions really don't leave us with any other option."

Fox's Shepard Smith and Catherine Herridge presented the Fox version of this story yesterday, reporting that May 28 is the date set for the release of at least some of the photos. Herridge says that someone who's seen them told her none of them are as bad as the Abu Ghraib shots, but about 44 of them could be very ugly indeed.

And there's this note:

Smith: Some of the critics are really labeling this 'Abu Ghraib Part II.'

Herridge: Well, you remember that after Abu Ghraib there was worldwide condemnation for these images of humiliation. And I learned in my research today that there was also a military report in 2008 that concluded that there is a connection between these images and also suicide bombers. Forty-eight bombers, or potential bombers, were interviewed, and they said that these images were a big factor, a big motivating factor, in the decision to become a suicide bomber.

This in fact comports with that 2006 National Intelligence Estimate [PDF file] that found that Bush's war in Iraq had actually created the conditions for a future ripe with terrorist attacks; or, as the New York Times put it, "helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism." Among the real motivators for terrorist recruitment, it found, was the torture regime the Bush administration set up in places like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

If anyone thought that photos from those centers would not eventually leak out to the public -- or at the bare minimum, be forced out eventually by the inevitable lawsuits, as was the case here -- they were fooling themselves. Or at least gambling that they'd be out of office by then and could lay the whole mess in the laps of whoever had the misfortune to succeed them.

Indeed, the Obama critics are now out in force shouting that the pending release of these photos will hurt soldiers in the field, including Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. Bill Kristol is claiming that "this would be a gratuitous assault on the well-being and the reputation of our fighting men and women."

But of course, they can't answer the cold fact that these photos are a product of the Bush administration's misbegotten policies, and the reaction to them from the Arab world -- indeed, the rest of the world -- puts the lie to Dick Cheney's claim that "enhanced interrogations" kept us safe.

In fact, over the long run, they have made us quantifiably less safe. And cleaning out this festering wound once and for all is the only hope we have of healing it.

Herridge's story has an on-point quote from the ACLU, which sued to get these photos released:

"The people in the pictures are guilty, but it does not stop and it is dangerous for us to assume that this is just a few bad apples," said Jonathan Hafetz, an attorney with the group. "This was at the highest levels of the U.S. government, a policy of state-approved torture that the U.S. committed and carried out throughout the Bush administration."

Incidentally, Robert Gibbs was asked about it by Fox News' Major Garrett yesterday:

Q Robert, Senators Graham and Lieberman have written the President a letter about pending release of the photographs of the treatment of detainees, and they would like the President to consider reversing that decision made by the Justice Department and the Department of Defense. And in their letter, they say the release of these old photographs of past behavior --

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me -- the decision made by the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice relating to a series of court cases dating back to September of 2008, as well as an appeals case dating back to March 11.

Go ahead.

Q That's the legal foundation, yes. And in their letter, they say this will "serve no public good" -- I'm quoting now -- "but will empower al Qaeda propaganda operations, hurt our country's image, and endanger our men and women in uniform." Is this something that is being considered by the President for reversal or is this a policy that will go forward? And does he have any anxiety about the potential consequences of the release of these photographs?

MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously the President has great concern about any impact that pictures of detainee -- potential detainee abuse in the past could have on the present-day service members that are protecting our freedom either in Iraq, Afghanistan, or throughout the world. That's something the President is very cognizant of, and we are working to -- we are working currently to figure out what the process is moving forward.

Q Does this mean -- does that mean the decision could be reversed?

MR. GIBBS: I don't want to get into that right now.

Q So you can't commit either way?

MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to add much to that right now.

We'll see what that means in the days to come, no doubt.

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