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Cenk Uygur

Cenk Uygur

Posted: May 13, 2009 03:53 PM

Obama Makes Terrible Mistake by Not Releasing Pictures


This is an unbelievable moment. Dick Cheney's PR offensive over the last month actually worked. Barack Obama just crumbled and will follow Cheney's command to not release the new set of detainee abuse pictures.

By the way, if you hadn't figured it out by now, that's why you saw every Cheney in the world on television arguing that torture works and that releasing more information would gravely harm the troops. They weren't worried about what was already released; they were worried about what was going to get released. They were trying to preempt the most damaging thing of all -- the pictures that show the torture.

Just talk about torture doesn't really do it for the American people. But when they see pictures, they get it. That's why Bush had to apologize profusely and throw a few low-level soldiers under the bus when the Abu Ghraib pictures came out. You think there would have been anywhere near that level of controversy or accountability (such that it was) without the pictures?

How many Americans have heard of Bagram Air Base and how we tortured people to death there? A scant few. How many would have heard of it if there were pictures of detainees shackled from the ceiling in a Palestinian hanging or bleeding to death? Pictures are worth a billion words.

You know why? Television! If something isn't on television, it didn't happen. And television producers are obsessed with visuals (makes some sense since it's a visual medium, but their obsession winds up dumbing down the news if there aren't any pictures or video to go along with an important story).

Television has a multiplier effect. The New York Times story on how we beat a man named Dilawar to death at Bagram just sits there and whoever reads it, reads it. And then, it's done. On television stories spread and multiply and get spread to other channels and other mediums. Television doesn't just report the news; it decides what the news is.

So, that is what this whole fight has been about -- the pictures. And now Obama adopted Cheney's position that it endangers national security to release the pictures and he will be saddled for the rest of time with the obligation to fight Cheney's battle for him. And anytime any reasonable person makes a case that as a free and open democracy we should know what our government did, the right-wing will counter with, "Even Obama thinks it endangers national security!"

The reason why this is such a maddening argument is that it is so f'in obvious that the real problem isn't releasing the pictures; it's what we did in the pictures. The argument that Obama so stupidly accepted just now shifts the blame from the people who committed the abuse to the people who want to uncover it and put an end to it.

If you released the pictures and show how the "enhanced interrogation" memos directly led to these abuses, there would be no more torture debate. Everyone could see with their own eyes the horrific results of torture. Now instead, Obama has not just protected the torturers, but empowered them. They now get to claim they tried to protect America and that anyone who tries to show their misdeeds endangers America.

The news reports will tell you that Obama listened to his generals on this. Yes, who put Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. Ray Odierno in their current positions? Oh yes, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Very fair and balanced advice you would get from them. This isn't about protecting the troops; it's about protecting their own behinds. They might have been in the chain of command that allowed this abuse to happen. Expecting unbiased advice from them is ridiculous.

Now, it looks to the rest of the world that we are trying to hide something, that we have not turned over a new leaf, that it is the same old lies and duplicity -- and that Obama is on it. This was colossally stupid.

And to add insult to injury, we have to reconcile ourselves to the fact that Dick Cheney still runs DC no matter how unpopular and despicable he is. He still has the Democrats eating out of his hand. Pathetic. Absolutely pathetic.

There should be an overwhelming Democratic and media revolt over this decision. The Democrats cannot be like the Republicans and bow their heads at all of the president's decisions. They should fight him tooth and nail on this. Don't hold your breath. Other than Feingold and a few others, they will all immediately lay down.

But I come back to a question that keeps popping back up -- are there any real journalists in this country? Has everyone become so obsessed with access and so cowed by possible governmental reaction that they don't actually do their job anymore? They seem so damn frightened by what the big, bad government might say about them.

If there's a real journalist in this country, they will get their hands on those pictures and release them to the world. We did what is in those pictures. The longer we cover it up, the more culpable we all become. Not showing the pictures doesn't make the reality of what happened go away. It only aids and abets the torturers who did the crimes and stained this country's name. They should all be thrown into the sunlight. This is what the press is supposed to do.

Now, are so-called journalists going to act or are they going to just sit there and take it again? We're going to find out if we have attack dogs in the press that uncover the truth as it actually is or if we just have a bunch of lap dogs that can't wait for their master to give them the crumbs off his table. This is a litmus test. Is this an free and open country, or isn't it?

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