What to do with the detainee photos?
Last week, I wrote a post on a quote that lit a conflagration. Retired Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, the author of the Abu Ghraib internal investigation, told the Daily Telegraph that he had seen a set of photographs showing "torture, abuse, rape and every indecency"; the Obama administration had agreed to make the photos public, ...
Last week, I wrote a post on a quote that lit a conflagration.
Retired Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, the author of the Abu Ghraib internal investigation, told the Daily Telegraph that he had seen a set of photographs showing "torture, abuse, rape and every indecency"; the Obama administration had agreed to make the photos public, but then reversed its decision three weeks ago.
The blogosphere reacted with typical restraint. One post on the site of The American Prospect, for instance, demanded that Obama release all of the photos, even if they depicted rape, and even if they depicted the rape of a minor. (Wouldn’t those photos be a felony to possess?)
At the time, I wondered whether it could really be true: why would Taguba, retired for more than two years, speak for the Obama administration, with which he had no relationship? How did he know which photos of the thousands taken the White House was considering releasing? And why would he give such an incendiary comment to a British publication?
Turns out, the answer’s easy: Taguba told Salon’s Mark Benjamin on Friday, "The photographs in that lawsuit, I have not seen."
Indeed, Taguba was referring to the Abu Ghraib photographs, which, famously and graphically, show sexual abuse, humiliation, degradation, and beatings. (The photos for which the ACLU filed a FOIA request allegedly show interrogations at facilities like Guantanamo Bay — nobody outside the military and White House knows for sure.)
That’s that, then — a reminder, not a new story.
But it isn’t the end of the much broader and much more important fight over what should happen to such photographs and videos.
On May 20, Senators Lindsay Graham and Joe Lieberman introduced the "Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009" to Congress. The bill would, in essence, classify all photographs and videos "taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009 relating to the treatment of individuals engaged, captured, or detained after September 11, 2001, by the Armed Forces of the United States in operations outside of the United States." No Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, like the one the ACLU filed, could force their release. And the Secretary of Defense could renew the act every five years.
It seems to me to be a dangerous thing — to group all photographs of detainees together, and ensure they never see light. This is no longer really about the Abu Ghraib photos; at this point, we know what happened, the perpetrators have been punished. But the Bush administration codified the abuse of detainees in secret prisons. It was systemic, and it was law. And if there are photographs of those interrogations, they should be open to FOIA requests, at the very least.