Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Quick Note to Barack Obama

Earlier today, Barack Obama (or at least the administration) reneged on an earlier commitment to release more photos of prisoner abuse, one assumes similar in tone to the famed snaps of Lynndie England posing with piles of naked prisoners. His reason? "The most direct consequence of releasing (the photos), I believe, would further flame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger. ... I fear the publication of these photos may only have a chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse."

If I could slip him a note, here's what I'd write:

Mr. President -- it frightens me that I have to tell you this, but nonetheless you seem to have missed something very important. That is, that releasing those torture photos will make our troops safer than if you keep them classified. Letting the world see them sends the signal that America plans to deal - in an open, honest way -- with the fact that we tortured prisoners.

Of course, as you obviously realize, if we do this facing-up with anything approaching honesty your predecessor might be standing trial for war crimes. And since you (or rather AG Holder) seem to have no intention of bringing anyone to justice for these crimes, my guess is that you've decided not to take even a step down the path toward that rather substantial bit of terra incognita. Best not even think about it. Here be dragons. Releasing photos says you plan to do something. But since it looks like you plan on doing nothing, maybe you're right. Maybe releasing the photos would only tease the global community that America might be willing to own up to our bad behavior.

If you really want to make our troops safer, release the photos. Let the world know America is taking responsibility for our actions. Send clear signals that we will not let it happen again. Punish those who made this horrific error.

By keeping those photos classified, the world realizes we have no intention of giving up "enhanced interrogation." That we'd waterboard anyone we liked anytime we liked if we thought it furthered our interests. The message we send is that nothing, really, has changed.

And that, Mr. President, is how you recruit martyrs and make Americans everywhere less safe.

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