Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hiding Our Abuse

Today President Obama declared he would seek to block the court-ordered release of photos showing U.S. troops abusing prisoners. As the AP reports, it is an abrupt reversal of his earlier position. What was Obama's reasoning for going seemingly "Bushian" about the release of these photos? President Obama states his decision to keep the world in the dark about the photos was done out of concern they would "further inflame anti-American opinion," endangering U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Seriously? That's the best you got? With all due respect Mr. President, you've got things a bit backwards. And here, let me tell you why...

More after the fold...

First off, anti-American sentiment in the world is quite inflamed already. Despite the fact that our corporate news media can spend hours on end talking about dumb comments by young beauty queens or give 24-hour coverage to the troubled celebrity du jour, media outside our country keep the rest of the globe very informed. Television stations like Al-Jazeera, while mocked and demonized in the U.S., actually offer very informative and hard-hitting journalism that detail in full the damages our imperial adventures have wrought in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. No new photos are going to do any more damage than what they are allowed to see streaming through their television sets or in their newspapers, which turn out to be much more truthful about the brutality of war than our own.

Second, forget photos--real life victims of torture and abuse have returned home to tell their stories in ways that pictures can't begin to capture. These are people's family members, and they have recounted in full--through interviews and articles--what they have been through. Again, I know our news media barely pays attention to such things, but their stories are well known in the neighborhoods, cities and countries they come from.

Third, contrary to Orientalist stereotypes the Muslim world is not made up of emotional hot-headed fanatics. Regular people live there--the type who will *naturally* become incensed at photos of torture and abuse. Will some use it to rally hatred and stir up violence? Sure. Just like we do, or have we forgotten the destruction wreaked on Fallujah by U.S. troops after some American contractors were killed and their bodies strung up by vengeful Iraqis? Fact is, with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed and thousands of Afghans still dying in their fractured and occupied countries, anger should have long led to the majority of the population rising up in rebellion against every American in sight. Yet peoples in these regions have not done so en masse. So there's no reason to assert that allowing them to see some terrible photos will cause them to act out on their anger any more than they have for the past eight years.

Fourth, most people in the Middle East were paying close attention to Nov. 2008. They are aware there is a new figure in the White House. And they are rational enough to discern actions taken under a previous administration from the current one. Showing the photos would probably go a long way in allowing many in the region to further acknowledge differences between these two administrations, and not blame the current one for the acts of the past. Showing these photos would allow the new administration to demonstrate that they acknowledge wrongs done by their predecessors and the hurt they have inflicted. Most victims first and foremost want those who wronged them to admit their guilt and be open about it. This won't solve everything, but it's a good first step. Hiding it away is not.

Fifth, however bad these photos are, trust that our imaginations are much, much worse. Not releasing the photos only causes endless speculation about what they could possibly contain. Eventually, somehow, these photos will come out--they always do. In the meantime however, you're allowing us to entertain our darkest sadistic nightmares. And you may find in the end that rumors are a greater threat than the truth.

Sixth, you really want to not incite hatred against American troops Mr. President? Well here's something for starters--stop sending unmanned aerial drones to bomb villages to kill one "suspected militant" and accept civilian casualties in such operations as collateral damage. Stop the massive bombing of population centers and then spinning off propaganda to blame it on "extremists." Stop this ill-informed idea that you can spread democracy at the edge of a knife and a missile as you ramp up a surge in Afghanistan and now intend to expand this bizarre crusade into Pakistan. Thought about shaving off some of that ridiculously over-sized and over-priced U.S. embassy casting an imperial shadow in the center in Iraq? How about listening to polls by the Iraqi and Afghan people who want an end to occupation now? How about stopping this boogey-man hunt for "terrorists" that to many in the region just wreak of subversive attempts to gain oil and gas fields?

There are 1001 things Mr. President you can do to lessen the harm faced by U.S. troops--key among them getting them the heck out of where they aren't wanted. But going along with a cover up of past U.S. misdeeds isn't one of them. Because it seems the only ones who are being shielded from seeing the truth here aren't peoples in foreign lands, but those right here who are kept blissfully ignorant about what is carried out in their names across the world. Perhaps this is just a political tactic of some nuance that escapes me--and the photos will eventually come out through some panel commission or act of the courts. But it would go a long way in improving our image in the world if you took a stand to shed more light and decided to drop alot less bombs. Change the rest of the world we can believe in? Try again.


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