Alex Constantine - May 17, 2009
Salt Lake Tribune
Much as he'd like to, President Barack Obama can't have it both ways. In releasing four memos that gave a patina of legal justification to the CIA to brutalize prisoners, he ignited a controversy.
Should the memo writers, and perhaps their Justice Department supervisors further up the ladder -- maybe all the way to the top -- be prosecuted for authorizing interrogation methods that treaties and U.S. laws forbade? And, if not prosecutions, should a special commission be empaneled to at least investigate and make public all the evidence?
At first, the president appeared to encourage the debate, although making it clear he opposes prosecutions. Now, in opposition to a court order, he is trying keep secret photos that show prisoners being abused by U.S. interrogators.
That turnaround seems both counterproductive and ill-advised, serving merely to strengthen compelling arguments for an exhaustive investigation and full disclosure. And in seeking to block the photos, he degrades the commitment to transparency that he said informed his decision to release the memos.
Obama has responded that the pictures would only "further inflame anti-American opinion" and put U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq in greater danger. He says they are not as graphic as the stark images from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq that shocked the world in 2004. It's true, given the deep-seated hatred for America in much of the Arab world, that more images of prisoner abuse would be inflammatory, even if, as Obama says, the photos are less explosive than those that already are public.
We understand that the president is working feverishly to get U.S. troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and that part of that effort is to improve America's image in that part of the world. New photos of prisoner abuse won't help that cause.
But Obama set a correct course for the country when he issued an executive order on his second day in office prohibiting the harsh interrogation techniques that amount to torture. His release of the torture memos was a good beginning.
Obama has said he wants the country to look forward, not getting bogged down in investigating and prosecuting those involved in the policy of torture.
But a simple disavowal of torture is woefully inadequate. We as citizens must face squarely what has been done in our name and then decide what to do about it. Obama should release the photos and appoint a bipartisan commission to examine all the evidence of how this happened, who ordered it and who carried it out.