Philip Gourevitch sells transparency down the river.

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

I originally posted this here at the Great Orange Satan. I stated then and I will state now that my rights are not for sale. Now, Philip Gourevitch seeks to sell my right to know what is being done in my name down the river in the New York Times. I will repost here and then add a rebuttal to Mr. Gourevitch down below.

Crazed & Confused thinks that Obama was right not to release the torture photos. But he ignores the basic problems with Obama’s rationale — transparency is essential to a functioning democracy. It was the clear intent of the Founding Fathers that the government follow a policy of transparency — in fact, the Constitution requires that Congress publish a journal of its proceedings. If we do not have maximum transparency in our government, then how will we know if we are still a functioning democracy? How will we know if our elected officials are following the Constitution? This is the very sort of thing that Obama ran on. I suggest that he do what he was elected to do and provide more transparency in government by releasing these pictures.  

We have two different roles in government. The job of the government is to be a check to the power of the mob, to step back and think things through when the mob screams for reform yesterday. It took Truman three years to end segregation in the military. Obama is taking his time in developing an effective gay rights policy. Rushed legislation is frequently bad legislation — the Patriot Act is a prime example.

But on the other hand, it is not our job to put blind trust in anyone — and it doesn’t matter if it is Obama, FDR, or Lincoln. Blind faith in our leaders will get us killed. That happened in the 1960’s, when Vietnam represented a betrayal of the faith that we put in our leaders to always tell the truth and do what is right. Watergate was another such blow. And who can forget Iraq, and the George Bush is always right crowd insisting that we had to blindly trust the President no matter what. Guess what? We were right; they were wrong. People saw for themselves the absurdity of perpetual warfare in the last election when it was on display for all of us to see.

Crazed & Confused describes the process that led to the initial decision to release the photos:

“Seated in Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s West Wing office with about a dozen of his political, legal and security appointees, Obama requested a mini-debate in which one official was chosen to argue for releasing the memos and another was assigned to argue against doing so. When it ended, Obama dictated on the spot a draft of his announcement that the documents would be released, while most of the officials watched, according to an official who was present. The disclosure happened the next day.”

But it does not therefore follow that Obama will always be right in his decisions. When he is wrong, it is our job to call him on it. What we must do is lay the groundwork for principled opposition to the President’s policies (when necessary).

Crazed & Confused goes on by listing the motives governing his initial support for the release of these photos. It seems to me that they were driven by emotion — and that is exactly what we need to put an end to now that our long nightmare under the Bush administration. Most of us will agree with Obama half the time and be driven up a wall by him the other half of the time. But my need was not based on wanting Dick Cheney to STFU and go to his rathole and die. And it was not based on any need to gawk at disasters. Crazed & Confused, if he was driven by those motives, was driven by emotion and not reason. In other words, he was initially right for the wrong reasons.

We have to have objective standards to guide our thinking so that we can critique Obama’s policies effectively. I suggest, in the following order, that our first criteria has to be the Constitution — is it Constitutional? The second should be, is it supported by sound science? The third should be, can we support this in good conscience? The reason that I put the Constitution first is because it is more than just a law in the books. It is a statement of values that we share as a nation. The reason I put our own consciences behind that of sound science is that it is not about us — we are a social animal, and psychological studies have found that psychopaths, for instance, believe that the world revolves around them and that everything is their property. In other words, if we are to function effectively in any society, we must be able to put others first. Everybody must benefit. And furthermore, we cannot do what is right because of what is in it for us, beyond our right to make a basic living. We have to do what is right for its own sake. Of course doing what is right will make us happy — when I say that everyone must benefit, that includes the person in the mirror.

So, let us take these standards and apply them to Obama’s decision to change his mind and not release the photos. Was it Constitutional? No — as I stated above, transparency is important to ensure that the government functions properly. If we were to do away with transparency, then we might as well kiss the Constitution good bye — the government could spy on our private conversations just because we were Wiccan, for instance. Or they could secretly compile dossiers on all peace activists in this country. I’m sorry, but we the people have a right to know what is going on in our government in our names. This is a right that is non-negotiable, unless the government can prove that it has a compelling interest in doing so. But the government has no case whatsoever for proving such a compelling interest beyond the rationale that it will somehow put our troops at risk.

But even if Obama’s defenders were to successfully argue that what he did is Constitutional, it would not be based on sound evidence. The problem is that not one Obama defender has produced one piece of evidence showing that our troops would be in substantially more harm than they would if we kept these photos secret. First of all, any reasonable person would know that these acts of torture happened under Bush’s watch and not Obama’s. Therefore, it would not reflect on Obama if these photos were to be released. Secondly of all, Obama’s defenders are asserting a positive — that the release of these photos would harm our troops. Therefore, the burden of proof is on them to prove that the release of these photos would harm our troops. No links, no case. Specifically, they could either provide evidence that the release of the Abu Girhab photos resulted in more attacks against our troops OR they could provide psychological evidence showing that the release of such photos would have an inflammatory effect in the Muslim world.

Now, let us examine Crazed & Confused’s statement that it did not affect him personally. But that is a narrow and short-term view of the situation. First of all, it has been documented that there have been instances of torture since January 20th. Secondly of all, even if Obama successfully puts a halt to even isolated instances of torture, there is no guarantee that the next President will continue the same policy. Thirdly of all, engaging in torture and refusing to subsequently face up to it afterwards will only put our men at risk, because our enemies will have no compunction about torturing our troops if they were to get captured.

He continues:

What would I do if I were a young man in Pakistan – my country being taken over by the Taliban.  What if the Taliban asked me to join them?   What if I shared their faith – although never to that extreme – but was searching for meaning in my life (as do so many young people regardless of their birthplace).  Would I join?

His answer would be that such photos in that instance might well be the  breaking point in getting people to sign up for the Taliban and other enemies. But the problem with Crazed & Confused’s whole line of reasoning here is that he is arguing from anecdote. The problem with arguing from anecdote is that it does not necessarily show the whole picture or show how people actually behave. One single isolated story does not equal proof. By the same regard, there was anecdotal evidence in medieval times that there were witches who needed to be burned at the stake. Or that there were miraculous healings at such and such a fountain or such and such a well.

He asks what would happen if, in his own words, Taliban recruitment goes up 4,000%? But these are not rational arguments backed up with evidence — these are appeals to fear. These sorts of appeals to fear were what got us Bush in the first place. We need to put aside our fears and follow our hopes and dreams. Releasing these photos is clearly the right thing to do, as I discussed above. And we must do what is right regardless of any fears that we have about the consequences of our actions. If we know that what we are doing is right because we have a solid moral and ethical and philosophical framework to go on, we should have no reason to fear the consequences. Obama is well-respected in the world — so I submit that Crazed & Confused’s worst-case scenario would not happen at all. I submit that most people around the world would see for themselves that Obama was doing the right thing. That is a big difference between him and Bush. And we all agree that we need to protect our troops. But I submit that if we do not follow Constitutional principles that it would put our troops at risk much more than either Bin Laden or the Taliban ever could because eventually, we would not have an effective government to protect them in the first place. For a good example of this see how the Roman Republic fell apart.

He concludes:

One last thing.  I know some of you (not all) get so outraged and outspoken partly because you are looking for a reaction.  But really – if these photos are not released right now is it going to effect your daily life?  Most of us have not been asked to bear the burden of this conflict. Most of us have never served our Country at all.  Maybe this is one thing we can all do to give a little bit back to those who do serve.  Maybe we can trust that Obama considered all options, and decided this was the best choice we had.  Maybe we can rally behind our leader, and give him the support he will need to fight off attacks by the Right and allow him to continue the great work he has started.   He’s only been in office for a few months, yet he has faced challenges few people on this Earth have or will ever have to face.  Maybe, just maybe, we can act like the Americans of yesteryear and sacrifice – just a little.  A very little.

Would the refusal to release the photos affect our daily lives? Yes — I submit that it would continue to erode the trust between the government and its people. And we have already born the burden of George Bush’s policies of perpetual warfare — our country is divided, our economy is in shambles, many of us have lost jobs and/or homes. The time when we could blindly trust that our leaders were doing the right thing is over. We all agree that we need to fight the lies of the right. But my right to know what is going on in my name is not for sale.

Mr. Gourevitch, like the Kos diarist Crazed and Confused, says we don’t need more of the pictures of our troops torturing prisoners. But let me ask now what I asked then — who is he to determine what I should know and what I shouldn’t know? I have yet to see Mr. Gourevitch or any other proponent of government secrecy provide any links proving that our troops would be in more danger if these photos were to be released. And since I wrote my original diary two weeks ago, nobody has come up with any links demonstrating that there would be more attacks against our troops. Nobody has even shown a correlation between the release of the Abu Girhab photos in 2004 and any corresponding increase in attacks on our troops.

Mr. Gourevitch claims that releasing photos would not be telling us anything that we don’t already know. Well, who is he to determine that? Does he have some kind of special access that the rest of us peons don’t? Let President Obama release these photos and let us determine how significant these photos are.

Next, President Obama is, contrary to Mr. Gourevitch’s claims, suppressing information. He promised to release these photos. Now, he has backtracked on those photos. For one thing, they may help us determine whether our torture of prisoners was a matter of a few bad apples, as the Bush administration claimed, or whether it was a culture that was cultivated by the Vice President and his minions.

Mr. Gourevitch is right that these photos would demand investigation and interpretation. But that is exactly what we are here for at the blogosphere. We were the ones who investigated Gannongate and Plamegate and the Downing Street Memo when the corporate media was too lazy to do so. Now, as Bhudydharma says in a recent meta diary of his, pundits are now coming to us for news and comment instead of the other way around. We would investigate these photos to death and create the kind of ripple effect that would be needed to effect real change. Mr. Gourevitch may prefer not to use them in his book — that is his personal choice. Why should he deny us our personal choice to see the photos for ourselves and determine what is and isn’t significant? That is like the supporters of forced pregnancy prying into our bedrooms demanding the right to know what our personal medical decisions will be.

Mr. Gourevitch, who has seen most of the photos, notes that one such photo, one of the most graphic, shows an empty cell sticky with blood. It turns out that one of the prisoners was shot after firing a smuggled gun at the prison guards. Well, we all agree that an accurate record of the sad experience of Abu Girhab must be recounted. But the government could accomplish that goal by annotating the photos, explaining what each one of them depicts. Then, we could determine the significance of the photos for ourselves.

And the discussion about the release of the photos is not a sideshow, as Mr. Gourevitch claims. If it were, then why is he fighting tooth and nail to prevent them from being released? It is about one of the most fundamental requirements of government — to make itself accountable to the people. There are two legitimate reasons why the photos could be kept secret. One is that they could show impending investigations. The other is that their release might pose national security risks. But in the first case, Obama never stated that there were any ongoing investigations. And as for the second case, the CIA never saw fit to classify the photos — meaning that their release would not create a clear and present danger.

And finally, Mr. Gourevitch can’t have it both ways. He says that we have the right to know that the bad apples were at the top of the civilian chain. But the problem is that Obama has taken prosecutions off the table. And then Mr. Gourevitch turns around and states that we don’t need to know what these photos are. Well, Mr. President, if the prosecution of Cheney is off the table, the least you can do is release these photos so that we can at least establish an accurate record of what happened.

8 comments

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    • halef on May 25, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    I don’t read Arabic and I don’t follow the relevant sources, so I don’t know for a fact, but I’d be very surprised if the pictures are more terrible than the no doubt lurid stories that are circulating.

    On another level, though, I can see that releasing the photo without any PR preparation whatsoever could create problems; one of the consequences of the release of the Abu Ghraib pictures first time ’round was that Arab governments came under pressure from the Arab street to distance themselves from the US.  If that happened again with the release of the new batch, it would make any sort of diplomacy regarding the I/P conflict, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir/India, Sudan, Somalia and probably some others much more complicated.

    It would take a massive preparation:  line up interviews with Arab-language television stations like Al-Jazeera and the print media to put the release in context.  Plus, the US would have to be able to show the Arab street something concrete, not just the mantra “we don’t torture/these are bad apples/it’ll never happen again”.  The Bushies said that as well; they were lying through their teeth, so why would the Arab street believe the new crowd in the White House when so little has visibly changed:  Americans still patrol and kill civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there have been no prosecutions of the high-level perpetrators.

    The one area where the US can gain credibility with the Arab street is to hold Israel to its commitments and stop the settlements expansion cold.  The Bushies’ anything-goes attitude to Israel’s conduct more than anything else showed to the Arab street that the US applies a double standard against Arabs and Muslims.

    Once the US has put its foot down with Israel and prepped the Arab media and – who knows? – prosecutions against the whole deck of cards of Bush-era villains have been launched, then the release of the pictures will be a political non-event.

    • dkmich on May 25, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    We can argue the pros and cons and perhaps even build a case why doing the wrong thing is the right thing; but ultimately, it will still be wrong.  

    The sacking this country took at the hands of the Bush administration was simply the culmination of 30 years of greed dominated politics.  They have effectively pillaged and plundered this country into the ground and left it with as much credibility as a drunken wife beater.     Obama can’t piece this mess back together; and what’s more, who wants him to?  People are tired of it.  

  1. releasing them with the truth about what happened and how we will make amends can only improve a situation that through not releasing them is left up to hearsay and imagination.

    It is that simple to me.

  2. Obama has stated that his rationale for not releasing the torture photos is that it will inflame anti-American sentiment within the Muslim world. What this assumes is that the release of the photos now under the new Obama administration would have the same effect as the leak of such information under Bush. It assumes that Muslims can not distinguish the actions of an American administration bent upon reform of past wrongs from those of the previous criminal regime.

    The tragic danger here is that by withholding the photos the new administration gives the Muslim world cause to conclude that the new regime is not bent upon reform, but rather intent upon a continuation of our criminal past.

    The decision not to release the photos is therefore guaranteed to evoke anti-American sentiment with the Muslim world, and therefore not releasing the photos is actually more dangerous to our troops and security.  

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