Obama Backtracks on Photos, New Torture Information Released

by Brien Jackson

I’m late to this (damn finals), but obviously the big news of the past couple of days is that the Obama administration will not, in fact, be releasing photos of Bush administration approved torture they had previously indicated they were going to release. I had previously applauded the decision to make the photos public, so my initial reaction was to join the chorus condemning the administration for this reversal, but the more I think about it, the more I’m not so sure.

To with, the only particularly convincing rationale I’ve heard for the decision is that it wasn’t so much about quashing “anti-American sentiment,” so much as it was avoiding enflaming Iraqis. With the rather large caveat that I have no way of knowing whether or not this is true, I guess this makes some pretty good sense to me. With national elections scheduled before the last US troops are set to leave the country in 2011, I do think it would be wise to avoid anything that is going to cause a disproportionate backlash among the citizenry so long as American troops remain in the country, not necessarily because it puts the troops in any increased danger (I think these claims are rather dubious) but rather because it would likely make the political situation unteneable for some time in that country. Assuming this really is the rationale, I suppose I can live with it for the time being, provided that we get more answers in the interim, or that the pictures are released after the last of US troops leave Iraq.

In other news, Robert Windrem reports on what could be a devastating wrinkle in the torture regime in The Daily Beast:

*Two U.S. intelligence officers confirm that Vice President Cheney’s office suggested waterboarding an Iraqi prisoner, a former intelligence official for Saddam Hussein, who was suspected to have knowledge of a Saddam-al Qaeda connection.

*The former chief of the Iraq Survey Group, Charles Duelfer, in charge of interrogations, tells The Daily Beast that he considered the request reprehensible.

He also claims that much of the information in the 9/11 commission report was based on information gained from torture.

This is an important revelation for two reasons. First of all, the typical conservative rational for why the Geneva Conventions are inoperable to terrorists (they’re “illegal combatants”) presumably don’t apply here. An Iraqi intelligence official would presumably have been a uniformed member of a duly constructed state military body, and would almost certainly have been a POW recognized under Geneva anyway you slice it, making Cheney a war criminal any way you look at it. Secondly, this is after the invasion. There’s no “ticking time bomb” logic in play for looking for an al-Qaeda/Iraq link after we’d already invaded Iraq. Rather, this was Dick Cheney looking to extract information that would confirm the political reasons put forward for the war. He was looking for false confessions plain and simple.

Also, not for nothing, but where the hell is George W. Bush (you know, the commander in chief) in all of these decisions?





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