FinalCall.com News Editorial

There is perhaps no weightier problem for a president than dealing with a war, its abuses and its impact. The problem is all the more weighty when the war is inherited.

With the march to war in Iraq based on lies and a failure of political leaders and the news industry to investigate false Bush administration claims of connections between the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York, Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network and the president of Iraq, the president’s challenge in dealing with two wars is massive.


The military fiasco has consumed resources, shredded America’s image abroad and revealed the ugliest side of U.S. military operations with revelations that Iraqis were abused, degraded and tortured at the hands of those who came to save Iraq from a “maniacal dictator” and “free the Iraqi people.” The photos of treatment of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison and yet unseen photos of abuses elsewhere mirror the type of actions American officials condemned longtime U.S. ally and late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein for employing. U.S. “outrage” over rights violations was among arguments used to justify destroying a country, killing and displacing millions of people, and unseating a longtime friend, who received U.S. arms, money and intelligence to use against his opponents.

A court decision that photos of brutal and disgusting treatment in Iraq and Afghanistan should be made public and an agreement between the American Civil Liberties Union and the Obama administration was squelched with the president’s May 13 announcement that the photos would not see the light of day.

“The publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out by a small number of individuals. In fact, the most direct consequences of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger,” President Obama told the media.

The decision was applauded by many on the right and among officials and agencies culpable in the horrendous activity. It is not, however, a decision of which this country can be proud. The release of the photos would be painful, embarrassing and anger Muslims and those fed up with American hypocrisy and unjust domination. But releasing the photos would also be an opportunity for America to move along the path of atonement for this evil done in the name of freedom and democracy.

The first steps toward atonement and reconciliation are to admit wrong and confess the fault. Hiding the photos only reminds the world that America continually demands of others what she is unwilling to do herself. She demands that others forthrightly bare their souls and show their shame to the world whenever moral failings and rights violations are alleged–let alone proven. But she continues to try to cover herself with a fig leaf while the world sees her as she is–totally without shame and blind to the contradictions between her professed values and her deviant actions.

The problem is not the photos but the Satanic minds behind the photos and the architects of the policies that led to the abuses.

From the highest levels of the Bush administration legal arguments were concocted to justify torture, concoctions which former President Dick Cheney defends to this day, and measures certified by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. His dismissal of questions was lapped up by fawning media “professionals” who should have demanded answers for the public. After all, the war has cost taxpayers billions of wasted dollars as well as the lives of children of American citizens and the lives of immigrants hoping to become citizens.

Not showing the photos doesn’t change the truth that the photos captured or lessen the suffering inflicted on victims. Not showing the photos–which are said to be worse than photos from Abu Ghraib of naked men on leashes with smirking U.S. servicemen nearby, hooded prisoners subjected to abuses and detainees cowering before vicious dogs–doesn’t lessen national violation felt in Iraq and Afghanistan or the insult felt by their Muslim brothers and those who deplore abuse of human beings.

Can you imagine America’s response if a single photo were to show a U.S. soldier treated in such manner?

Some warn the Obama administration is missing an opportunity to disconnect from Bush policies loathed across the globe. “(W)orld opinion, particularly that of Muslims, would likely view the release of these horror images as representing a rupture for the better in American politics and foreign policy. America would be seen as reclaiming its high moral compass and affirming its respect for human dignity,” wrote analyst Fawaz Gerges, in a piece for CNN.com.

“Taking ownership of and responsibility for the Bush administration’s actions, horrible and painful as they are, will reinforce Obama’s break with his predecessor and his new message to the U.S. public and international community: The United States is a good citizen of the world, a nation of laws that fully complies with the laws of war. In the eyes of friends and foes, the president’s new message would gain more traction and credibility.”

“The primary target audience is mainstream Muslim public opinion. There is plenty of evidence indicating that Obama’s overtures to Muslims have begun to pay off. In polls and my own interviews, more and more Arabs and Muslims say they think very highly of the young president and believe he will have a positive impact on the Middle East and relations between the United States and the region,” Mr. Gerges added.

Others, like Frank Rich of the New York Times, argue the photos will inevitably leak out causing more problems than a full and complete release of the pictures. “Until there is true transparency and true accountability, revelations of that unresolved eight-year nightmare will keep raining down drip by drip, disrupting the new administration’s high ambitions,” Mr. Rich warns.

The ACLU has called the photos further evidence, not of a few bad apples, but a reflection of illegal policies coming out of the Bush administration. Anthony D. Romero, ACLU executive director, said the sheer number of photos, some 2,000 images, support his view that these aren’t limited or isolated incidents.

The Bill of Rights Defense Committee called the failure to release the photos “unprincipled maintenance of secrecy.” Chip Pitts, president of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee board of directors, said, “Greater transparency and accountability is not merely a subject for nice speeches, but an indispensable prerequisite to learning the lessons of the mistakes made during the last eight years, ending U.S. double standards, and reinvigorating our national reputation and genuine national security.”

“While we had high hopes for the new administration, it has become clear that the only way the government will change is if the American people unite to demand transparency, accountability, and justice,” he said.

But the country needs more than just a demand for transparency from its leader in the Oval Office and members of Congress. The country needs to find its moral compass and demand that actions taken in its name reflect the ideals, the desires and the will of the people. The decision to withhold the photos lies with the president but the power to overturn that decision lies with the American people.