We Wouldn't Want to Inflame Anti-American Sentiment

There are many bizarre aspects to Obama's decision to try to
suppress evidence of America's detainee abuse, beginning with the
newfound willingness of so many people to say: "We want our leaders to
suppress information that reflects poorly on what our government
does." One would think that it would be impossible to train a
citizenry to be grateful to political officials for
concealing evidence of government wrongdoing, or to accept the idea
that evidence that reflects poorly on the conduct of political leaders
should, for that reason alone, be covered-u

There are many bizarre aspects to Obama's decision to try to
suppress evidence of America's detainee abuse, beginning with the
newfound willingness of so many people to say: "We want our leaders to
suppress information that reflects poorly on what our government
does." One would think that it would be impossible to train a
citizenry to be grateful to political officials for
concealing evidence of government wrongdoing, or to accept the idea
that evidence that reflects poorly on the conduct of political leaders
should, for that reason alone, be covered-up: "Obama
and his military commanders decide when it's best that we're kept in
the dark, and I'm thankful when they keep from me things that reflect
poorly on my government because I trust them to decide what I should
and should not know." It's the fantasy of every political leader to
have a citizenry willing to think that way ("I know it's totally
unrealistic, but wouldn't it be great if we could actually convince
people that it's for their own good when we cover-up evidence of
government crimes?").

But what is ultimately even more amazing is
the claim that suppressing these photographs is necessary to prevent an
inflammation of anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world generally
and Afghanistan specifically. That claim is coming from the same
people who are doing this:

Up
to 100 civilians, including women and children, are reported to have
been killed in Afghanistan in potentially the single deadliest US
airstrike since 2001. The news overshadowed a crucial first summit
between the Afghan President and Barack Obama in Washington yesterday.
. . .

This week's airstrikes took place in the
Taleban-controlled area of Bala Baluk, in Farah province. US military
officials in Kandahar said that the number of fatalities was nearer 30,
but the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that the
death toll was far higher.

Jessica Barry, an ICRC
representative, said that an international Red Cross team in Bala Baluk
saw "dozens of bodies in each of the two locations" on Tuesday. "There
were bodies, there were graves, and there were people burying bodies
when we were there," she said. "We do confirm women and children."

And doing this:

The Obama administration has told a federal judge that militarydetainees
in Afghanistan have no legal right to challenge their imprisonment
there, embracing a key argument of former President Bush's legal team.

In
a two-sentence filing late Friday, the Justice Department said that the
new administration had reviewed its position in a case brought by
prisoners at the United States Air Force base at Bagram, just north of
the Afghan capital. The Obama team determined that the Bush policy was correct: such prisoners cannot sue for their release.

And this:

American soldiers opened fire and killed a 12-year old boy after a grenade hit their convoy in Mosul on Thursday. . . .

"We
have every reason to believe that insurgents are paying children to
conduct these attacks or assist the attackers in some capacity,
undoubtedly placing the children in harm's way," a U. S. military
spokesman wrote in an email on Saturday.

But eyewitnesses
said the boy, identified as Omar Musa Salih, was standing by the side
of the road selling fruit juice - a common practice in Iraq -- and had
nothing to do with the attack.

And this:

The Obama administration is weighing plans to detain some terror suspects on U.S. soil -- indefinitely and without trial -- as part of a plan to retool military commission trials that were conducted for prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

And this:

In a federal court hearing in San Francisco this morning, a representative of the Justice Department said it would continue the Bush policy of invoking the 'state secrets' defense, which has been used in cases of rendition and torture.

And this:

The
Israel Air Force used a new bunker-buster missile that it received
recently from the United States in strikes against Hamas targets in the
Gaza Strip on Saturday, The Jerusalem Post learned on Sunday. . . .

Israel
received approval from Congress to purchase 1,000 units in September
and defense officials said on Sunday that the first shipment had
arrived earlier this month ..

We're currently
occupying two Muslim countries. We're killing civilians regularly (as
usual) -- with airplanes and unmanned sky robots. We're imprisoning
tens of thousands of Muslims with no trial, for years. Our government continues
to insist that it has the power to abduct people -- virtually all
Muslim -- ship them to Bagram, put them in cages, and keep them there
indefinitely with no charges of any kind. We're denying our torture
victims any ability to obtain justice for what was done to them by
insisting that the way we tortured them is a "state secret" and that we
need to "look to the future." We provide Israel with the arms and
money used to do things like devastate Gaza. Independent of whether
any or all of these policies are justifiable, the extent to which those
actions "inflame anti-American sentiment" is impossible to overstate.

And now, the very same people who are doing all of that
are claiming that they must suppress evidence of our government's abuse
of detainees because to allow the evidence to be seen would "inflame
anti-American sentiment." It's not hard to believe that releasing the
photos would do so to some extent -- people generally consider it a bad
thing to torture and brutally abuse helpless detainees -- but compared
to everything else we're doing, the notion that releasing or concealing
these photos would make an appreciable difference in terms of how we're
perceived in the Muslim world is laughable on its face.

Moreover,
isn't it rather obvious that Obama's decision to hide this evidence --
certain to be a prominent news story in the Muslim world, and
justifiably so -- will itself inflame anti-American sentiment? It's
not exactly a compelling advertisement for the virtues of transparency,
honesty and open government. What do you think the impact is when we
announce to the world: "What we did is so heinous that we're going to
suppress the evidence?" Some Americans might be grateful to Obama for
hiding evidence of what we did to detainees, but that is unlikely to be
the reaction of people around the world.

If we're actually
worried about inflaming anti-American sentiment and endangering our
troops, we might want to re-consider whether we should keep doing the
things that actually spawn "anti-American sentiment" and put American
soldiers in danger. We might, for instance, want to stop invading,
bombing and occupying Muslim countries and imprisoning their citizens
with no charges by the thousands. But exploiting concerns over
"anti-American sentiment" to vest our own government leaders with the
power to cover-up evidence of wrongdoing is as incoherent as it is
dangerous. Who actually thinks that the solution to anti-American
sentiment is to hide evidence of our wrongdoing rather than ceasing the
conduct that causes that sentiment in the first place?

* * * * *

For a discussion of why the release of these photographs is so imperative and the very real value they could generate, see here and here.

* * * * *

Finally,
here's Rachel Maddow and Jonathan Turley last night excoriating Obama
for relying on core Bush/Cheney rhetoric and reasoning to justify the
cover-up of this torture evidence:

UPDATE: Federal District Judge Alvin Hellerstein (.pdf) and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals
(.pdf) have both rejected the Bush arguments -- now the Obama arguments
-- for suppressing these photographs, and held the the law clearly
requires their public disclosure.

For those wishing to defend Obama's decision here (and, again, were any of you who are doing so criticizing Obama two weeks ago when he announced he'd release these photos?), please read these three paragraphs
from Judge Hellerstein's decision explaining why the Bush/Obama
arguments in favor of suppression are so bankrupt, along with his
quotation of a passage from Daniel Patrick Moynihan's book arguing that
"secrecy is for losers" and documenting how citizen trust in government
secrecy is the linchpin of abuses of power.

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