Monday, May 10, 2004

1000 words aren't needed...

...to sum up the problems with the treatment of prisoners at Al Ghraib. Only one is. Torture.

Still, there's a morbid fixation by some on the photographic evidence, and the pictures have assumed a central role in the denial of Donald Rumsfeld and others about the nature and importance of the events. It's as if the whole thing only happened because there are pictures.

In fact, the pictures are important, because until they were provided to the higher command, the reports of torture and abuse of prisoners - reports that had been coming from sources like the International Red Cross, were at best downplayed, if not outright ignored. Still, the photos are really the least of the problem.

Alan Rosenblatt states the case at BOPnews. "Has anyone noticed," he writes, "how fixated Rumsfeld is on the pictures of tortured Iraqi prisoners. The administration is trying to focus us on the pictures, not the act. This is wrong. As Senator Clinton stated when questioning Rumsfeld, the text report was more than enough to raise the hair on the back of her neck.

"Rather than focus on the pictures, the legality of leaking the pictures, the release of additional pictures and video, we need to be focused on why this was happening. Pictures have a tendency to focus responsibility on those in them. Yet clearly this was more widespread. We need to focus on the chain of command."

Most of my encounters with the pictures have been incidental. I've seen the shots that have accompanied some news items on the net, though I've avoided the temptation to click through to larger versions, and of course, the infamous Economist cover. I believe the remaining pictures and video should be released, but I have no burning desire to see them.

Frankly, I don't need pictures to grasp the problem with charges like these:

Detainees were threatened with a loaded pistol

Cold water was poured on naked prisoners

Inmates were beaten with a broom handle and chair

Male detainees were threatened with rape

A prisoner was sodomised with a chemical light

Detainees were forced into various sexual positions to be photographed

Naked inmates were arranged in a pile and then jumped on

Male detainees were forced to wear women's underwear

Male detainees were forced to masturbate while being photographed and videotaped

Military dogs were used to frighten and intimidate; in one case a detainee was bitten.


In fact, I don't even need to read the Geneva Conventions to know those things are wrong.

The pictures aren't the problem.

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