Congratulations are due to the ACLU and federal judge Alvin Hellerstein for handing the thugs of the world a propaganda coup on a silver platter.
Hellerstein ruled on Friday that photos depicting the torture of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan while in U.S. custody must be released within two months if the government decides not to appeal his decision.
The ACLU, which originally brought the suit more than a decade ago, says the pictures “are manifestly important to an ongoing national debate about governmental accountability for the abuse of prisoners.”
The fight over the photographs reaches back to the early years of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it invokes the images of abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq that sparked international outrage after they emerged in 2004 and 2006. Early in the 2004 lawsuit, the ACLU pointed to the Abu Ghraib photos as priority examples of records the organization was seeking on the treatment of detainees.
It’s unclear how many more photographs may exist. The government has said it has 29 relevant pictures from at least seven different sites in Afghanistan and Iraq, and it’s believed to have perhaps hundreds or thousands more, Hellerstein said in a ruling in August. He said some photos he had seen “are relatively innocuous while others need more serious consideration,” and he has ruled that any images that would be released would be redacted to protect the identities of people in them.
Some photographs, taken by service members in Iraq and Afghanistan, were part of criminal investigations of alleged abuse. Some images show “soldiers pointing pistols or rifles at the heads of hooded and handcuffed detainees,” then-Solicitor General — now Supreme Court Justice — Elena Kagan wrote in an appeal to the high court earlier in the case, which has taken a long road through the courts and Congress.
The government has long argued that releasing the photographs could incite attacks against U.S. forces and government personnel abroad, and officials have said that risk hasn’t abated as the U.S. military role in Iraq and Afghanistan lessened.
Indeed, “the danger associated with release of these photographs is heightened now,” amid the rise of the Islamic State militant group, Navy Rear Adm. Sinclair Harris, the vice director for operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a December court filing. Islamic State, he said “would use these photographs to further encourage its supporters and followers to attack U.S. military and government personnel.”
Amid the lawsuit, Congress passed a 2009 law allowing the government to keep the photos secret if the secretary of defense certified that unveiling them would endanger U.S. citizens or government or military personnel.
Was there torture of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan? Yes there was. Should those who carried out the torture and anyone who ordered it be put on trial? Yes, absolutely.
But what possible purpose is served in releasing the photos? Let’s hold those in the government accountable and have a national conversation about it without releasing the photos. The only purpose of releasing these pictures is to satisfy those who glory in seeing the United States laid low in the international community. There is no high-falutin purpose to putting the U.S. government in a bad light in the eyes of the world. There is only a self loathing that requires constant reinforcement that the U.S. is evil, and undeserving of its lofty place in the world order.
And the notion that “airing our dirty laundry” for the entire world to see makes us “stronger” is a nonsensical construct based on a grand illusion that it is somehow heroic to damage our own interests and put our own people in danger. I call bullcrap on that and always will.
The fact of the matter is, in the “Arab street” — and in the streets of every dusty, two bit thugocracy and theocratic backwater in the world — the ignorant fanatics and ox-dumb peasants won’t see the nuance and subtlety about “accountability” claimed by the ACLU and those eager to embarrass the U.S. The release of the pictures will be an out-and-out incitement to riot and to kill Americans. Not that they need an excuse, but in their twisted worldview, the release of the photos would be an order from God — an opportunity to engage in murder and mayhem courtesy of the self-loathing hypocrites who are agitating for the release of this dynamite.
The photos are enemy propaganda. There is no difference between the torture photos and film released by the North Vietnamese showing happy, healthy American POWs eating well and apparently being well treated. Does it really matter which side releases the propaganda? Our enemies will use the photos for their own propaganda purposes. Why give them a helping hand?
The effect — intended or not — is the same. The propaganda is designed to elicit an emotional response and hide the truth. Are we to believe that every one of the tens of thousands of people who have been captured over the last decade were all subjected to the treatment shown in the photos? You can bet our enemies will make that claim.
Those photos are no more representative of the way most prisoners who fell into our hands in the last decade were treated than were the North Vietnamese propaganda films that hid the truth about their brutal treatment of captured Americans.
The torture of prisoners was real. It is a cause for national shame. But no purpose whatsoever is served by releasing photos of the crimes. The vast majority of people around the world will not see the photos as an effort at government accountability, or a sign of the strength of our democracy, or any other elevated notion of civilized behavior the left thinks releasing the pictures will reveal about America.
It will result in fire, and mayhem, and blood. And every drop of it will be on the heads of those who arrogantly believe in their own moral superiority.