Five years ago, the world got a look at American soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison when photographs--many taken by soldiers themselves--were released. It was a turning point in public opinion about the Iraqi war, and powerful evidence of the effect that imagery can have in important discourse. More than 400 American troops (but no senior officials) went to jail or were otherwise punished. Congress held hearings and eventually passed the Detainee Treatment Act to curb such behavior in the future.
Now, according to reports, the Pentagon is about to release another batch of photographs from Abu Ghraib--perhaps hundreds of new images. This release comes as the country debates the use of torture in obtaining critical infomation. The Pentagon did not want to release these images, which it collected when it investigated the abuse at Abu Ghraib. It eventually capitulated after losing three separate Federal court reviews of the matter.
Again, the images may deeply affect public opinion about the use of torture, and they should be seen. I believe there are reasons to keep information vital to national security secret, but I cannot make myself see how the release of these photographs from Abu Ghraib will harm our security. I'd say it's vital that they be released. They will inform the great debate over the use of torture with a dose of reality that only photographic imagery can provide.
Time.com reports that two U.S. senators, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, have urged President Obama to fight the release of the images. But their reasoning is reveals some odd logic: "We know that many terrorists captured in Iraq have told American
interrogators that one of the reasons they decided to join the violent
jihadist war against America was what they saw on al-Qaeda videos of
abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib," the pair wrote Obama May 6. "The
release of these old photographs of past behavior that has now been
clearly prohibited can serve no public good, but will empower al-Qaeda
propaganda operations, hurt our country's image, and endanger our men
and women in uniform."
It sounds to me like an admission that torture, or prisoner abuse, is indeed counter-productive—that its use only inflames moderates to turn toward terrorism. I also do not follow the line of reasoning connecting the first sentence of the letter to the second. If prisoner abuse creates terrorists, an informed public discussion of such practices can indeed serve the public good. If kept secret, these photographs will do much more harm to our country's image in the long run.--David Schonauer