On Saturday, Philip Gourevitch published an editorial in the NY Times (here) that perhaps offers the most comprehensive defense of Obama’s recent decision not to release photos of prisoners being abused in Guatanamo, Bagram Air Force Base and Abu Ghraib. In essence, his point is that there is nothing new in these pictures, but that they would serve as a virtual media packet for those looking to recruit a new wave of terrorists. This hews fairly closely to Obama’s rationale for changing his mind, but somehow it carries a little more credibility for me, since Gourevitch isn’t being motivated by fear of political blowback. Furthermore, Gourevitch’s work in “We Regret to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families” on the Rwandan genocide gives me a certain amount of confidence in his motives.
I have to say that before reading this, I was largely disappointed by Obama’s decision, but within the larger context of his administration seemingly being unable to untangle the mess of Guantanamo and form a Truth and Reconciliation Commission of some kind to deal with the legacy of the Bush II era. We shall see. He still has time, though I feel that the Democrats are still far too quick to cave into Republican fear mongering about anything to do with National Security and terrorism, but it is less clear with Obama.
More than anything, I feel that Obama needs to lead his party and the country past the mentality of 9/11 and the Bush years by providing a comprehensive vision about how to make this happen. Perhaps, Obama’s decision about the pictures would be less frustrating for the left and the human rights crowd (of which I include myself), if Obama didn’t seem so determined to maintain other aspects of the Bush approach, such as the state secrets’ privilege, the use of military commissions, and indefinite detentions.
Only time will tell. For now, I at least feel like I can let the issue around the pictures go and look forward to reading Gourevitch’s book on Abu Ghraib.