Friday, May 15, 2009

Pictures of Evil

It is interesting to contrast the situation in South Africa after Apartheid with American acts of evil in Iraq. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed on the idea that without full knowledge and accounting of the horrors that had been perpetrated, the culture could not move on. The puss had to be cleaned from the wound. But this accounting would not take place if immunity from prosecution was not offered to many of those with knowledge of the horrific acts. Many argued that it was a crime against justice to absolve the guilty, but the pragmatic value and faith in the disinfectant power of sunlight prevailed.

President Obama's decision to keep the photos of American torture of detainees from the world comes from the same pragmatic impulse. Americans and most of the world are ignorant of the absolute desecration of the human spirit that has been executed in our name. Where South Africans knew of the unspeakable acts committed against prisoners and in naming them and the victims, they could confirm worst nightmares of loved ones, we talk only of waterboarding in intentionally deceptive terms (it's like getting your head dunked under water...). What we do not speak of is what else we really did. Seymour Hersh knows, having seen all the Abu Ghraib photos and even that war-hardened reporter who broke the story of the My Lai massacre holds these to be something truly evil.

He said that after he broke Abu Ghraib people are coming out of the woodwork to tell him this stuff. He said he had seen all the Abu Ghraib pictures. He said, "You haven't begun to see evil..." then trailed off. He said, "horrible things done to children of women prisoners, as the cameras run."
He has spoken of children being raped in front of mothers and refused to speak further. We have corroborating evidence for such claims.
Excerpt from statement provided by Kasim Mehaddi Hilas, Detainee #151108, on January 18 2004:

"I saw [name deleted] fucking a kid, his age would be about 15 - 18 years. The kid was hurting very bad and they covered all the doors with sheets. Then when I heard the screaming I climbed the door because on top it wasn't covered and I saw [name deleted] who was wearing the military uniform putting his dick in the little kid's ass. I couldn't see the face of the kid because his face wasn't in front of the door. And the female soldier was taking pictures".
The images in question include pure evil committed by Americans upon innocents whose only crimes were being born in Iraq.

The President thinks that these images are so horrendous that they would likely cause an inferno of hate against us and could possibly destabilize the region, if not the world, and make any diplomatic standing we may be gaining moot. To expose such acts would mandate justice for those who perpetrated and approved them. This would tie up Washington for so long that nothing else could be done. Every conversation about health care, the economy, global warming, everything would stop or become hyper-partisan and polarized. Unlike the South Africa case where sunlight disinfected, here he contends that exposure to the sun would cause geo-political melanoma.

But like South Africa, he thinks that pragmatic progress needs to be traded for justice. But should we? Will avoiding prosecuting all those connected with this lead to a greater likelihood of further atrocities? Is ignorance bliss and can this state of bliss bring about a better world in the end than having our eyes open? Like A Clockwork Orange, do we need to see it to be shocked away from it? We use the phrase "come clean" to perpetrators, will it cleanse us to be honest or will it only cause more harm to know how horrific Americans acted? Do utilitarian concerns trump justice and the right to know?