Blog of Rights

Torture Photos Can Give Us a Clean Break From the Past

By Suzanne Ito, ACLU at 3:44pm

Today, published commentary written by Amrit Singh and Jameel Jaffer, the two ACLU attorneys who filed the lawsuit for the release of the torture photos. They write:

The photos are a critical part of the historical record. The government has acknowledged that they depict prisoner abuse at locations other than Abu Ghraib, and it's clear that the photos would provide irrefutable evidence that abuse was widespread and systemic.

The photos would also shed light on the connection between the abuse and the decisions of high-level Bush administration officials. As the district court recognized, the photos are "the best evidence of what happened."

…The truth is that senior officials authorized the use of barbaric interrogation methods that the U.S. once prosecuted as war crimes, and even abuse that was not expressly authorized was traceable to a climate in which abuse was tolerated and often encouraged. The photos would help tell this story.

President Obama's other rationale for suppressing the photographs is that they would "inflame anti-American opinion and put our troops in greater danger," an argument that was repeatedly rejected by the courts when made by the Bush administration.

Nobody, of course, wants to see anyone get hurt by the release of this or any other information. But the fundamental problem with the government's argument is that it lacks a limiting principle.

…To give the government the power to suppress information because it might anger an unidentified set of people in an unspecified part of the world and ultimately endanger an ill-defined group of U.S. personnel would be to invest it with a virtually unlimited censorial power. And by investing it with such power, we would effectively be affording the greatest protection from disclosure to records that depict the worst kinds of government misconduct.

…We cannot make a clean break with the past until the public knows what happened in the detention centers and why. Blinding ourselves to the ugly consequences of the Bush administration's policies only deprives us of the opportunity to learn from recent history. And if we fail to learn from this history, we are bound to repeat it.

Send a message to President Obama asking him to live up to the promise of transparency he made in his first full day in office. And ask Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate those who authorized the torture and abuse of prisoners.


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