A Director’s Take on Why the Photos Are Important

Alex Gibney, writer, director and producer of the 2008 Oscar-winning documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side, recently commented on The Atlantic about the Obama administration’s reversal on releasing photos depicting detainee abuse in U.S. custody overseas in the ACLU’s Torture FOIA lawsuit.

As a filmmaker, Gibney clearly understands the importance and sensitivities around using images to tell a story. Taxi to the Dark Side investigates the murder of an innocent Afghan taxi driver at the Bagram Air Force Base. By incorporating images from inside the Bagram, Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay prisons, and interviews with former government officials, interrogators, prison guards, journalists and families of the tortured prisoners, the film dissects the progression of Bush administration policies condoning indefinite detention, torture and abuse.

Arguably, this story would be a hard one to tell without images illustrating the kind of torture and abuse the film confronts.

In an entry entitled "Why the Photos Are Important," Gibney states:

…When I was making "Taxi to the Dark Side," we scanned scores of previously unreleased photos from Abu Ghraib and discovered disturbing evidence of widespread abuse and lack of discipline…the photos confirmed a de facto policy that was meant, according to an investigation conducted by Major General Fay "to condone depravity and degradation."

…So, painful as they may be to examine, these new Abu Ghraib pictures probably have even more to teach us about how the "enhanced interrogation techniques" approved by the Office of Legal Counsel, for a few detainees in CIA custody, somehow managed to spread to Iraq, where even John Yoo has said that the Geneva Conventions were supposed to apply.

Our enemies already know much of what we have done in the CIA black sites, and in our prisons in Afghanistan, Cuba and Iraq. By following the rule of law, and abiding by our principles of openness and inquiry, we don't give comfort to our enemies. Just the opposite. We send a powerful signal that we mean what we say about investigating crimes, rather than covering them up. We show that we mean what we say about the rights of the individual and that we are strong enough to assert them, not so weak that we must hide our principles - or our photographs - whenever our military forces are engaged in combat.

In a second post about the photographs entitled "Photos Lie - and They Also Tell the Truth. Release Them." Gibney goes on to say:

…The fact is that these photographs, in conjunction with other bits of evidence - including the documents that the Obama Administration properly released - can still teach us a great deal. Further, a release of the photos probably does not prefigure their display on cereal boxes. Newspaper editors, bloggers, TV and Film Producers will still exercise judgment about whether the release of some photos merely amounts to a pornographic display, rather than leading to a greater public understanding.

We shouldn't allow the government to shape its own narrative about crimes that have been committed in our name. Through good judgment and analysis, American citizens should be able to have the opportunity to work out the forensic and cultural meaning of these photographs.

Well said. We give that a standing ovation.

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Trude Kyle

Please add Torturing Democracy to your list of reference films on torture by the war criminals in the Bush administration. You can go to www.torturingdemocracy.org and review the film. And/or you can check out Bill Moyers on pbs.org 5/29 showing of this film.
We must hold them accountable

John H Kennedy ...

The photos need to be released and those that tortured need to be prosecuted.

SIGN THE PETITION To Prosecute Them For Torture

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Harold R. Pettus

In this unstoppable information age, the discussion of whether or not to release the photos is pure political posturing. We will all see them. The discussion is, and will be until it is resolved, whether or not the detention, abuse, torture, and even the waging of the war itself rises to the level of war crimes, how high the blame goes, and whether we will enrage the rest of the world by excusing ourselves in the pathetic name of prior restraint which, by the way, is illegal.

BaldwinCommunist

So why does the ACLU hate America?

Elizabeth

I disagree. If the Bush administration were still in power and more pressure was needed to force a change, it might be a different situation, but I believe these are policies of the past and release of the photos could have unintended negative consequences - further stirring up passions against America and our troops - that would outweigh the benefits of openness. In other words, I agree with President Obama and defer to his judgment. Again, if he were seeking to perpetrate the same policies I would reach a different conclusion, but I don't believe that is the case and I believe him when he says we are better of not releasing the photos.

Hawaiian style

Well said, another American that is not afraid of the truth.

WHEN we as a Nation wake up and realize that truth, our beliefs and our Constitution and Bill of Rights are the strongest most potent force against terrorism we will win this battle against these international criminals.

We will win it by the force of the ideas of our Forefathers and our present day dedication and faith in their magnificent product.

We will win it by being an example to the world that we are a do as we say and as we do Nation that is kind, humane and generous.

We will never win it by the present, "Perpetual war for perpetual peace" policy.

A Serviceman

Please for the sake of the servicemen and women drop the law suite. I understand that you guys are looking for a transparent government but putting American lives in harms way because you guy think that this will make our country stronger, it will only serve to give our enemy more media propaganda to work with to further their hateraid of Americans and our way of life. It will not only be soldiers that will pay a price but civilian traveling abroad will pay as well. I agree that the people that cross the line should be punished. But it should be done buy the military and not in open court and be influenced by public opinion because the general public does not have a full understanding of what took place in each photo and neither do you guys or myself. Before you guys through another stone stop and take a long hard look in the mirror and ask your selves is it truly worth another American life over some pictures that in the end will serve their cause not yours.

STEVE

I BELIEVE THAT THE FULL DISCLOSURE THE ACLU INSISTS ON REGARDING NATIONAL SECURITY ISSUES FROM GITMO OR OTHER PLACES IS MIND NUMBING DUMB. THE MUSLIM WOULD BE TERRORIST IS NOT GOING TO BE INFLUENCED TO LOVE THE INFIDELS ANY MORE AFTER ELIMINATION OF ENHANCED INTERROGATION. WE WILL HOWEVER BE MORE AT RISK AS A NATION BECAUSE OF ACLU EFFORTS TO ELIMINATE THE PATRIOT ACT AND TO PUBLICIZE OUR INTERROGATION TECHNIQUES.

I LOVE THIS COUNTRY AND CONSIDER THE ACTS OF THE ACLU TO BE EXTREMELY DAMAGING TO THE DEFENSE OF THE USA.

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