Photos May Help Cause, But Whose?

by | May 17, 2009 | Detroit Free Press, Comment | 0 comments

Here’s a scenario: We release more photos of our alleged abuse of prisoners. Those photos shoot to the Internet.

They are posted in hotbeds of Islamic extremism. Recruits are rallied. Revenge is demanded.

A group of U.S. troops in Iraq or Afghanistan is ambushed, and some are taken prisoner. They are filmed with bags over their heads, as terrorists threaten to slit their throats.

And then they do.

The terrorists don’t show the film of that part. But we hear about it. Our families weep. The public is outraged – since the photos we released were clearly the impetus for this act.

What does the ACLU do then?

Does it apologize? Fat chance. Does it demand the terrorists turn over the footage of the beheadings? It can try. And you know what the terrorists’ response will be?

Who the bleep is the ACLU?

Which is pretty much what our response should be to demands that more Abu Ghraib-like photos be released to the public. The right to know that the American Civil Liberties Union blindly trumpets ignores the real-life implications of such transparency. Screaming at one side to play by a set of rules when the other side laughs at the idea is not always noble.

Sometimes, it’s just stupid.

The right to change your mind

This is one of those cases. Yes, I know that we might never have addressed the Abu Ghraib abuses without the initial public airing of photos. But we did. Abu Ghraib was closed. Guantanamo will be closed if President Barack Obama has his way. Investigations have taken place, people have been punished. There is already a harsh light shining on how we handle people captured in the war on terror.

Showing photos of our worst and weakest moments – at this point – doesn’t help the cause.

But it could hurt it.

I don’t blame the president for saying the photos would not add useful knowledge about abuse. I don’t blame him for worrying that such photos “further inflame anti-American opinion and … put our troops in greater danger.”

And I don’t really care that a month ago, he was saying something else. A good leader learns as he goes along. Holding a person to something he said just because he once said it is to deny development and celebrate mule-headedness.

There’s enough of that already.

No comparisons to this atrocity

And at times, the mule-headedness comes from the ACLU. Certainly, this group has done much good. There always should be forces that fight for transparency in civil rights.

But nobody is correct all the time. And the ACLU is wrong on these 44 photos for whose release it has sued. Remember, we are not at war with another open society based on democracy and fair play. We are fighting an enemy that will keep its people blind and ignorant to other worlds while purporting death to anyone who dares to deviate from theirs.

In such a world, photos of our mistakes will not be hailed for their honesty and conscience; they will be used as proof that we must be destroyed.

Some have argued that without photos from the Holocaust, we would never have known its horror. And the Nazis didn’t want those released, either. This is just silly. Show me a point where Hitler had transgressions exposed, called for investigations, shut down a concentration camp and spoke openly about past mistakes – and then we can make a comparison.

But that’s what happens when ideals are unfettered by reality. You get people wide-eyed angry over principle and totally blind to the harm they could cause. We know of the abuse. We’ve seen enough photos. There is such a thing as overkill.

And when that overkill could lead to more death – the death of your own people – you should ask yourself what bad you are doing while you’re doing so much good.

Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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