We Wouldn’t Want to Look Bad

“Secrecy is the freedom tyrants dream of.” –Bill Moyers

Chances are, we all have a few photos we’d rather not see splashed around the tabloids. (At least … I have … One of me and a friend staggering off a roller-coaster after our sixth or seventh ride comes to mind — it looks like we’ve barely survived one very, VERY tough weekend! — if no more. Hmm — that one DID get destroyed, right? Better check on that.) And there’s my uncle’s beloved Super-8 footage, showing the 12-year-old me doing a reasonable handstand atop a sand dune … until my hand slipped, so I smacked face-first into the dirt. Damn telephoto lenses anyway. (Hey, don’t ask why — it was just something I did in those days. I’m over it now, mostly.)

Like it or not, we know that if such unflattering artifacts should ever surface, we will just have to live with it, enduring humiliation and derision as best we can. Because we are just people, not governments, or government agencies. We can’t credibly claim that embarrassing us would jeopardize our hallowed national security, and we have no power to censor what our fun-loving friends and family choose to post on Facebook or Youtube.

But governments have more options. The United States has spent years in the courts fighting to block the release of pictures and other documents from our war on terror. Now maybe all this high-level stuff is too subtle for me. But if publishing evidence of how we treat prisoners would give so much aid and comfort and recruiting propaganda to our enemies, there might be an easier way to prevent that. Such as treating prisoners with humanity and respect in the first place.

This way, it looks like my country has something to hide, something to be ashamed of. From what we do know, there’s a hell of a lot we should be ashamed of. And there’s a hell of a lot my government wants to keep hidden. To protect the guilty. Silence and secrecy will never help us attain peace and justice. And if we won’t face up to our past, then we sure as hell won’t want to face the future we’ll get.


The Torture Secrets Are Coming
Blog of Rights / ACLU * Monday, October 20, 2014
by Marcellene Hearn
The American people are entitled to know what took place in U.S. detention centers. And it would be completely backwards to suppress images of government misconduct on the grounds that they are too powerful to be disclosed when it is often disclosure, accountability, and ensuing reforms that prevent misconduct from recurring.
Once you’ve seen the Abu Ghraib photos, they’re not easily forgotten.
The hooded man, the electrodes, the naked bodies piled upon each other, and the grinning soldier with a thumbs up. The images are the stuff of nightmares. They’re also incontrovertible evidence that our government engaged in torture, and their publication sparked a national conversation that helped end the Bush administration’s torture program.
Nevertheless, the Obama administration is still fighting to keep the full truth about torture – including photos the public hasn’t yet seen – from the American people. But recently the courts and the Senate have been pushing back, resisting the government’s claims that it can’t reveal its torture secrets. As a result, those secrets may finally be dragged into the light.
The government is holding back as many as 2,100 never-released images from Abu Ghraib and other detention centers overseas. The ACLU first sued for their release 10 years ago, and in August, District Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein ruled that the government must publish the photos unless it can defend withholding them on an individualized basis.
Tomorrow the government will appear in court and tell Judge Hellerstein and the ACLU what it plans to do.
The government based its suppression on a 2009 statute, enacted after the ACLU won the release of the images in the trial and appeals courts, that permits the secretary of defense to withhold an image for up to three years if the secretary certifies that its release would endanger Americans. In 2012, then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued a half-page certification for the entire collection, of more than 2,000 images.
“Standing alone,” Judge Hellerstein wrote in his August ruling, Mr. Panetta’s certification is “insufficient.” The government must prove that the secretary reviewed each photo by itself and “show why” the publication of each image risked national security.
The American people are entitled to know what took place in U.S. detention centers. And it would be completely backwards to suppress images of government misconduct on the grounds that they are too powerful to be disclosed when it is often disclosure, accountability, and ensuing reforms that prevent misconduct from recurring.
These principles aren’t just about righting the historical record; they have practical applications to this day. Just this month, another federal judge ordered the unsealing of 32 videos of force feeding and cell extractions at Guantánamo Bay.
These videos form part of the basis of Syrian detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab’s challenge to the force feeding practices the government inflicts on him today, practices that have been condemned internationally and which constitute cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, possibly even torture.
Judge Gladys Kessler rejected the government’s justifications for keeping the videos from the public as “unacceptably vague, speculative…or just plain implausible.” Citing an earlier opinion by Judge Hellerstein in the ACLU case, Judge Kessler dismissed the government’s argument that the videos could be used as propaganda by Al Qaeda. Last week, she granted the government’s request for a 30-day reprieve while it decides whether to appeal her orders.
Outside of the courts, the Senate Intelligence Committee is also signaling that it, too, has had enough of the administration’s efforts to conceal the truth about torture from the public. The committee voted six months ago to release the summary, findings, and conclusions of its landmark study on the CIA’s torture program.
Now the committee is pushing back against the administration’s efforts to black out so much of the summary to make it unreadable. The ACLU has separately sued the CIA for the full Senate report, the CIA’s response, and a contemporaneous internal review ordered by then CIA Director Leon Panetta. The CIA must “process” the summary, CIA response, and Panetta review by October 29, which means the agency will be required to justify any withholdings or produce the three reports.
With the courts and the Senate holding the line, we may soon know more than ever – not only about our past – but also about our present abusive practices. Only then can we truly move forward, and not backward.
© 2014 ACLU


** Update – 22 October 2014 **

The US government has been granted … another delay. Who could have guessed? After a scant ten years to prepare their defense, they need just a little more time. Well, once the upcoming election’s over, I’m sure they’ll be able to concentrate more on this case.

(Maybe I should go to law school after all — I’m already a pretty damn good procrastinator. With proper professional training, who knows, I might even be able to shove back god’s schedule for the last judgment. What’s the big hurry anyway?)


US Given New Deadline for Torture Photos ‘More Disturbing’ Than Abu Ghraib
Wednesday, October 22, 2014 * Common Dreams
by Jon Queally, staff writer
A federal judge has given the Obama administration less than two additional months to make its case why photos of abuse and torture by U.S. military forces against detainees captured following the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan should not be released to the public.
As The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman reports, Judge Alvin Hellerstein on Tuesday told government lawyers they must present a written argument for keeping more than 2,100 photographs secret even as many of them are thought to show graphic examples of mistreatment worse even than that shown in the infamous photos that depicted torture of prisoners in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison in late 2003.
According to Ackerman:
At issue is the publication of as many as 2,100 photographs of detainee abuse, although the government continues not to confirm the precise number. Said to be even more disturbing than the infamous Abu Ghraib photographs that sparked a global furor in 2004, the imagery is the subject of a transparency lawsuit that both the Bush and Obama administrations, backed by the US Congress, have strenuously resisted.
In 2009, US president Barack Obama reversed his position on the photographs’ release and contended they would “further inflame anti-American opinion and … put our troops in greater danger”.
That year, Congress passed a law, the Protected National Security Documents Act, intended to aid the government in keeping the images from the public. Two secretaries of defense, Robert Gates in 2009 and Leon Panetta in 2012, have issued assertions that US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq would be placed at risk by their disclosure.
But in August, Hellerstein said the government’s declaration was overbroad. Some of the photographs, which he said on Tuesday he had seen behind closed doors, “are relatively innocuous while others need more serious consideration”, Hellerstein said in August.
Disclosure, sought by the American Civil Liberties Union since 2004, will not come this year. Hellerstein scheduled a hearing to discuss the upcoming government declaration for 23 January 2015.
Responding to that latest development, ACLU attorney Marcellene Hearn said, “It’s disappointing that the government continues to fight to keep these photographs from the public.”
She added, “The American people deserve to know the truth about what happened in our detention centers abroad. Yet the government is suppressing as many as 2,100 photographs of detainee abuse in Iraq and elsewhere. We will continue to press for the release of the photos in the courts.”
President Obama has faced intense criticism throughout his two terms for refusing to hold Bush officials accountable for the torture that took place in the aftermath of 9/11 and during the occupations of both Iraq and Afghanistan. Reporting over the weekend by the New York Times revealed that the White House is now considering reaffirming his predecessor’s position that the “ban on cruel treatment” doesn’t apply when the United States is operating overseas.
On Tuesday, the ACLU released an interactive infographic showing the top architects of the U.S. torture program under President Bush, none of whom have ever been held accountable for the abuse authorized by the program.
In a blog post accompanying the new graphic, Jamil Dakwar, director of the group’s Human Rights Program, indicated that the Obama administration’s refusal to shine a light on the torture has become a stain on his own record and said that White House backing of the “fabricated” torture loophole would do “terrible damage to one of the world’s most important human rights instruments.”
He continued:
Simply put, the ban against torture and ill-treatment is universal and applies everywhere the U.S. government exercises, directly or indirectly, de facto or de jure control over people in detention. We echo the call of the New York Times editorial board to “close the overseas torture loophole.”
The United Nations will review American compliance with the convention in November. Ahead of the review, the ACLU has submitted a report to the U.N. Committee Against Torture, highlighting the areas in which the U.S. government has failed to uphold its human rights obligations under the convention.
In the meanwhile, we continue to wait for the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA torture program. The summary of the comprehensive report, the product of years of work, is being held up by negotiations over the executive branch’s excessive redactions, no doubt attempts to keep secret some of the most damning findings and evidence of the terrible crimes our country committed.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License


About l. l. frederick

I'm pretty ordinary, so I find any number of things in the world interesting, among them: books, music, flowers, food, social justice, politics and (sometimes!) people. As for my writing, I've decided that I can be subtle and tasteful when our only problems are esthetic ones. Or when I'm dead, whichever comes first. In the meantime, read at your own risk.
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8 Responses to We Wouldn’t Want to Look Bad

  1. …and we will be even more disgusted with our government than we are now! We need to see this though we may not want to see it and frankly, I am sure that I don’t. But in order to understand why we are so hated by the majority of the populations of the world, we NEED to see what we are doing to encourage groups that we claim are out to get U.S., as if they have no valid reason to want to do so. Oh, we know the reasons are valid, but the cloak of secrecy must be dropped and even then I don’t think we’ll get the full story of how horrendously we have treated other people. I am quite certain that some of us who are more delicately inclined, would fall down in a dead faint if we knew the half of it!

    Thanks Linda, I had no idea that more atrocities might be coming to light!

    • Shelby, H. L. Mencken or someone said that every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under. Which sounds plausible, if rather cynical — if they’re all that bad, how “decent” are the decent folk who keep putting up with that? And we do realize that no institution will ever be perfect. Still … what we have now is pretty hard to live with. And if we keep letting our leaders slide, we’ll never have anything but slime doing the job. It’s hard to enforce accountability in government, and it’s impossible if we don’t even know what is being done in our name and with our money. Keeping any official activity secret just makes every problem worse.

      I never want to see pictures of torture or degradation, either! (Those who would enjoy that should probably be flushed out of the gene pool … but that’s a different rant.) It is important that the truth is openly known and available. We just wish there was nothing to expose that would make us sick and ashamed. Thanks for your comment, and maybe someday I can post some welcome news! – Linda

  2. As I recall, only Seymour Hersh saw the videos of the teenage Iraqis being sodomized at Abu Ghraib. (I assume they used broom handles, right – or am I being totally naive?). I’m not sure I would want to see those particular videos. It was enough to know they existed. Hersh always said the sound track was the worst.

    • If this stuff wasn’t pretty damn ugly, they’d use it for our own recruiting posters. There’s a thought — “Our prisoners of war are treated so well they never want to go home!” A worthy goal for my country — and I expect to live long enough to see it.

      Well, maybe not. But we can do better, and we must do better than this shit. It won’t happen unless we make it happen, and it’s a long, slow haul from this sad and sorry point in our long, sad history. Thanks for your comment. – Linda

  3. Jeff Nguyen says:

    Truth must come before reconciliation. We are so far from convening anything resembling a meaningful human rights commission similar to those conducted to address human rights abuses in Guatemala and other Latin American countries in 1970’s and 1980’s, most of it U.S. state sponsored. It may take other countries forcing the issue but our military will have to decline first. There could come a day when American leaders see the hague…or not.

    • Jeff, Facing the truth about our country is essential. But I fear most of us will never do so voluntarily. And with the weaponry available for maintaining our illusions or delusions, who will risk belling the vicious, self-satisfied American cat? Thank you for your comment, and I do hope that every hard-won word of truth will bring us closer to peace and justice. – Linda

  4. tubularsock says:

    Linda ………. anyone who cares to know already knows. Tubularsock doesn’t need any additional pictures to know how deprived this country happens to be. What we need is accountability.
    STRICK ACCOUNTABILITY. Holding Obama, Bush and Cheney up by their testicles in the public commons would be a start!

    • Tubularsock, No argument! But how will we ever get as far as accountability if we keep letting the bastards suppress evidence of their crimes? I know you remember the phrase “plausible deniability”. Even when confronted with overwhelming documentation and testimony, the lies and justifications and propaganda never stop. We still have people who are convinced the world is flat. Which is just silly, except for maybe Kansas. My kitchen counters aren’t even flat, much less level, or spills wouldn’t run off onto my Crocs.

      Exposing every crumb of truth still seems like something we need. Not enough, but needful. Thanks for your comment, and I approve your suggestion — though that wouldn’t be enough, either. – Linda

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