The Pentagon and the CIA are opposing the release of photographs that depict the torture and sex abuse of prisoners and detainees while in their custody. The basis for their objection is “national security.”
Their argument goes like this: “Our personnel have done some horrendous things to people in our custody, so horrendous that we can’t even release the photographs that we took of them committing these horrendous acts. If the insurgents and the terrorists learn about the horrendous things we have done to people in our custody, they’ll not only be able to recruit more people to their side, they also will be more motivated to exact revenge on the United States. Therefore, in the interests of national security, we need to keep these photographs secret.”
I confess that I don’t really see the logic of that argument. In fact, my hunch is that the real reason they want to keep these photographs secret is so that the American people won’t see the horrendous things that U.S. personnel have done in obedience to orders and in loyalty to their superiors. It’s not anger and outrage among the insurgents and terrorists they’re worried about. It is the anger and outrage among the American populace they’re concerned about.
Let’s assume, for example, that the secret photographs show U.S. personnel raping prisoners and detainees. I don’t think that would be a farfetched assumption. Consider the recent flap in the London Telegraph over the photos. Concluding that the photos must depict rape, the paper cited the following statement by retired U.S. General Antonio Taguba, who wrote a critical report on Abu Ghraib in 2007: “These pictures show torture, abuse, rape and every indecency.”
Later, Taguba stated that while the Telegraph had reported his statement accurately, he wanted to clarify that it did not apply to the photos that are currently in dispute in the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the ACLU, which he said he had not seen. Taguba clarified that his remark referred to a previous batch of Abu Ghraib photos.
But that raises a problem, doesn’t it? While the batch of Abu Ghraib photos that the public has seen depict many sordid sex acts, they don’t depict rape. So, why would a respected and highly decorated retired military general say they did? Why would he lie or make up something that serious?
It seems to me that there can be only one explanation: Assuming he’s telling the truth, Taguba has got to be referring to the batch of Abu Ghraib photos or videos that were previously put under strict lock and key and classified Top Secret and that are not the subject of the current ACLU lawsuit.
Now, assuming that Taguba is telling the truth, doesn’t that mean that the people who did the raping or other horrendous things get go scot-free if the photos depicting their crimes are buried? After all, wouldn’t the photos be the best evidence to use to convict them of their crimes? In the process of burying the photos, doesn’t it also become necessary to bury any possibility of criminal prosecution for rape or other such crimes?
Moreover, it’s not as if the victims of the rapes or other such acts are necessarily going to remain silent about what was done to them. Assuming that the Pentagon and the CIA didn’t kill the victims of these horrendous acts to silence them, as soon as they’re released what’s to stop them from relating what was done to them to the insurgents and terrorists?
Sure, the CIA and the Pentagon can deny torture and sex-abuse allegations all day long, especially when there isn’t photographic evidence of such acts. But while the argument “Who are you going to believe — a terrorist or a U.S. official?” might work with Americans, it’s not going to work with friends, relatives, and countrymen of the victims. They’re going to believe the victims, especially given the Pentagon’s and CIA’s history of deceit.
So, given that the victims are presumably free to tell the insurgents and the terrorists what was done to them, what’s the point of keeping the photos depicting what was done to them secret? The point is very simple: They’re keeping those photos secret not only to protect the people who actually committed these horrendous acts from criminal prosecution but also to protect themselves from an outraged citizenry whose consciences might be pierced and who just might demand full and complete official investigations and accountability.